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Susan Estrich
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The Money Race in California


If there were one contest Meg Whitman didn't need to win in her bid to become governor of California, it was the race to collect the most money from individuals and businesses that do business with the state of California.

Campaign disclosure reports filed on Tuesday of this week generated surprising headlines and revealed that Whitman — who is accusing her opponent, Jerry Brown, of being beholden to the state's unions — has in fact raised more money ($10.7 million) from individuals, businesses and other groups than Brown ($9.5 million). The Los Angeles Times reported that among those maxing out (to the tune of $25,900) to Whitman are any number of businesses with an active lobbying presence in Sacramento, including Philip Morris, AT&T, the Western States Growers and Golden State Water Co.

A very rich candidate has two big advantages in politics. The first and most obvious is that when they need money for their campaign, they don't have to spend hours on the phone or in person coaxing cash from wealthy interests. They just take out their checkbooks.

But the biggest advantage is the ability to trumpet their independence. You can't buy the person who owns the store. You can't corrupt someone who is funding their own campaign.

At a time when most people in California are hurting, or have a family member, friend or neighbor who is, it's hard to watch someone spend money like it's water in an effort to get their face (or a bad screen shot of their opponent) on television. In the weeks before "Nannygate" (Whitman's 9-year employment of an undocumented housekeeper) took over the campaign, there was already resentment brewing about just how wealthy the former head of eBay is and just how much cash she has to burn.

Even so, she had a very good answer: She made that money herself. I, for one, respected the fact that this was a woman who made her billion and did it by building a business that fills my late nights with searches for the perfect designer suit or handbag.

And I think many other Californians shared that respect.

Equally important, the fact that she was funding her own campaign (or appeared to be) meant that if elected, she would owe no one — or at least no one with financial interests to be served by the decisions she would make as governor. At a time when people don't have much faith in the integrity of their government, that's no small thing.

But the latest disclosures have taken it away.

Sure, if you add in the money the unions spent supporting Brown through "independent" expenditures, he's had more outside help than Whitman. But even there, Whitman has pulled in outside help from unions.

The bottom line is that Brown needed that cash; Whitman didn't. Would she be in any different shape, politically or even financially, without the $10 million in outside donations? When you're spending more than $100 million of your own money, what's an extra $10 million or $20 million compared to the value of being able to say that you really are a different kind of politician?

Whitman should have taken better care of her housekeeper. She should have hired a lawyer for her and been very generous about severance, giving her every reason to keep quiet and stay away from Gloria Allred. That would have been more than just good politics. It would have been good, period.

And she should have limited contributions to her campaign and pledged to not take money from any business or individual who does business with the state of California. She was rich enough to do it, and it would have been the right thing to do.

Maybe if she'd had more experience in politics or better advisers she would have made different decisions. But her failure to do so is contributing to a growing sense that she is not, in fact, a different kind of politician, a different kind of leader. In winning the money race, she has hurt herself in the race that really matters.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



6 Comments | Post Comment
Suzie her housekeeper is a criminal, the only bonus she deserves is trip to the border. Do you pay you maid 25. per hour, I doubt it. If she needs help getting to the border I will purchase her ticket.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Paul
Thu Oct 7, 2010 2:53 PM
The profound hypocrisy of this column is rather stunning.

Meg Whitman accepting donations from companies who do business with the State of California is so "bad" that it wipes out all the good karma of her financial independence.

On the other hand, Estrich blithely mentions the 'outside help from labour unions' for the Brown campaign.

Why is the 800-pound gorilla in the room so quickly dismissed? Estrich is at the very edge of reason, when she turns around and walks away.

The single largest group doing business with the State of California is... wait for it... the *labour unions*. That's right, more than all the 'bad' companies listed in the financial disclosure forms put together. School reform, payroll, and pension costs are most (not all) of the huge financial challenges to the State of California. These are all issues of tension between the State of California and labour unions. And Estrich completely ignores this.

The practical matter that Whitman does not "need" the financial support of private business, yet accepts this support anyway, is the 'smoking gun' of Estrich's column. But hold on, just a second... Estrich has no judgment or opinion regarding the more compelling truth that Brown needs the support of labour unions very very badly, and the depth of Brown's dependency on labour union support is the quintessential example of the type of corruption and influence purchase which Estrich is (supposedly) decrying.

Let's sum this up: Trillions of dollars in California State pensions, payroll, and benefits are flowing between California's taxpayers and California's public employee unions, and the next governor will be the gatekeeper for this flow of wealth. The Brown campaign is heavily dependent on these same public employee unions for outright financial support as well as 'ground troops' support. In fact, if Brown wins this election, he will 'owe' his victory in no small part to the public employee unions. Whitman's campaign is accepting donations from businesses which sell goods and services to California State, even though Whitman's compaign isn't dependent on these donations. And by some Orwellian torture of logic, Estrich says Whitman's campaign, rather than Brown's campaign, is the example of some sort of 'dirty' influence in the political process.

The hypocrisy on display is quite stunning. Logic turned on its head, right before our eyes. The duplicity of this column is so glaring and so obvious that it insults the reader. Estrich, have you no shame?

-- Bob Elkind
Comment: #2
Posted by: bob elkind
Fri Oct 8, 2010 6:08 AM
Peg Whitman must be out of her mind wanting to run for Governor in the failed state of California. The state deserves Jerry Brown!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Early
Fri Oct 8, 2010 6:25 AM
Re: bob elkind

Just a followup to my comments on public employee union influence in the election, and the monetary stakes of public employee union contracts and pensions and benefits...

Here's a link to a LA times piece on (in part) public employee union influence (keywords: threats, blackmail, influence, whore, union, politics, endorsement)

The events described by the LA times piece reflect poorly on California politics in general, and neither Brown nor Whitman are 'clean'. The point of linking this piece is to underscore the extent to which public employee unions are players in the election... the issue which is completely ignored (and not even dismissed!) by Estrich's column on... election influence!

-- Bob Elkind
Comment: #4
Posted by: bob elkind
Fri Oct 8, 2010 6:44 AM
I know that Meg Whitman is wealthy and I contributed to her campaign. She has more business sense in her little-finger nail than you or obama could ever hope to have.
Comment: #5
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Oct 8, 2010 11:23 AM
Susan, I used to enjoy reading your columns and watching you on Fox. I always felt that though you are a liberal, I would get a straight shot from you. No more. You are so driven to keep Obama and the libs in control, I don't trust you anymore. I'd vote and give Meg a chance even with all the "bad" things you want to try to bring to our awareness. We don't need another career politican like Brown. Sick of what libs are doing to this country. Susan, please come back to reality and honesty. I miss you.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Lynn
Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:07 PM
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