Press Clips: Lights! Action! Camera! Bribery! News?


We don’t know if Michael Luo of the New York Times was just idly rooting around in Meg Whitman’s 19-page FPPC Form 700 financial disclosure when he just happened to stumble across an investment of more than $1 million in “Tools Down! Productions” and knew “ah ha!”  – that’s political consultant Mike Murphy’s Hollywood production company.

Or maybe somebody who doesn’t like Whitman and/or Murphy decided to point Luo in the right direction or slipped him the paperwork. Either way, it’s a good story and since we have a pdf of the actual document in hand (you can’t get it online), we know it’s true:

Right there on page 9, “Tools Down! Productions, Inc c/o Aaron Zimmer, Singer Burke & Co., 6345 Balboa Blvd, Building 4, Suite 375, Encino, CA 91316” a ”Partnership Stock” investment in “Entertainment Production” valued “Over $1,000,000.”

That’s MORE than $1 million, Calbuzzers. Sandwiched between investments in  Magellan Midstream Holdings LP and Abaca Technology Corp. just where you’d expect to find it.

Although some in the news media have been quick to kiss this deal off as totally legal and out of reach of scandal, there remains one question that we probably will never get a real answer to: Was this, on Whitman’s part, a political expenditure disguised as a business investment?

Sure it looks like Whitman, um, bribed Murphy to either stay away from Steve Poizner’s campaign or sign on to hers. But Murphy’s a private citizen. He can – and does – sell his services to the highest bidder. More power to him.

Whitman, on the other hand, has to follow certain rules. She can’t (ethically or legally) pay a retainer or a fee to a political consultant out of her private funds and not count that as a political expenditure made in pursuit of the office she’s seeking.

We don’t know what you might call the actual facts that could shine a light on that issue. We don’t even know how much the total “investment” was. Was it more or less, for example than the “More than $1,000,000” eMeg listed in two different Goldman Sachs Distressed Opportunities Funds?

Of course, not knowing all the facts has little effect on handlers for Whitman’s opponent, Jerry Brown. “By all accounts it was a political payoff masquerading as a so-called legitimate business investment,” said Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer after we goaded him.

“Murphy should disclose his other investors and whether the payment was reported on his income taxes . . .  It’s possible she paid it from one of her Cayman Island accounts,” Glazer added.

Murph’s only on-the-record comment to us was, “I’m absolutely not commenting on this.”

Oil spill, what oil spill? It was Hall of Fame blogger and erstwhile Senate candidate Mickey Kaus who coined the term “Feiler Faster Thesis” to describe the way that online age politics is changing as people learn to process information ever-faster, to keep up with the speed at which information now moves. Kaus in 2000 propounded the thesis based on an idea from writer Bruce Feiler to argue that the whole notion of “momentum” in campaigns is woefully out of date.

The news cycle is much faster these days, thanks to 24-hour cable, the Web, a metastasized pundit caste constantly searching for new angles, etc. As a result, politics is able to move much faster, too, as our democracy learns to process more information in a shorter period and to process it comfortably at this faster pace. Charges and countercharges fly faster, candidates’ fortunes rise and fall faster, etc.

A few years later, he boiled it down further:

The FFT, remember, doesn’t say that information moves with breathtaking speed these days. (Everyone knows that!) The FFT says that people are comfortable processing that information with what seems like breathtaking speed. [emphasis in the original]

The FFT came to mind Friday, when we read a report from the Washpost’s hypercaffeineated Chris Cillizza noting that the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which preoccupied TV and cable news for weeks, is quickly fading as an issue, even as the company and government continue frantic efforts to contain and cleanup the millions of gallons of oil erupting from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked to name the most important problem facing the country, just seven percent of respondents in the July Gallup poll said “natural disaster response/relief” — a major drop off from the 18 percent who said the same in June. (In Gallup’s May poll, just one percent named “natural disaster response” as the most important problem in the country.)

“Americans’ reduced likelihood to see the spill as the top problem could reflect the reality that the spill is no longer ‘new’ news or perhaps that Americans are becoming more confident that they spill will be fixed,” wrote Gallup poll director Frank Newport in a memo detailing the results.

Given their current sorry state, any Democrats desperate for any shred of good news may look to the FFT for hope that fast-moving, and so far unforeseen, events might yet alter the political landscape before they have to face cranky voters.

As dismal as things look for the Dems, amid the current conventional wisdom forecasting a wipe-out and possible loss of the House, cooler head prognosticators and pundits, like NBC political director Chuck Todd, don’t see how the numbers work for the Republicans to take over control.

P.S. After leaving Slate for his quixotic challenge to Barbara Boxer, Kaus has been writing on his campaign site, but says he’s mulling several, no doubt lucrative, alternatives (better get in line!) for where his blog lands next.

But what about the little guy: As eMeg dithers about which of the countless proposals she should accept to debate Jerry Brown, both of them  should summon the courage to show up at a big August event in Ventura County where they can talk to hundreds of real people from around California who are living and working on the front lines of the recession. Timm Herdt of the VenCo Star reports that:

Organizers intend to call it a “shared prosperity forum,” but the precise name they have in mind is a little longer: The 2010 California Shared Prosperity Gubernatorial Candidates Forum.

Whether they can actually call it all that, of course, depends on the two major party candidates for governor, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. If one or both accepts, the governor’s forum is on. If not, well, there’s a Plan B….

Executive director Marcos Vargas tells me that a broad range of groups from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego, groups representing low-wage workers, immigrants and seniors, have agreed to attend. A number of those groups, such as the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles, are part of a statewide coalition called Mobilize the Immigrant Vote.

It is Vargas’ vision that the event could be a refreshing change from the sort of staged town-hall meetings that pass for dialogue between candidates and voters these days.

Refreshing indeed.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Roaring Virile Fire Disturbs Social Order.

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There are 7 comments for this post

  1. avatar BigCahuna says:

    This “scandal” is far too subtle for any decline to state voter to appreciate or care about. It won’t stick, and it doesn’t feed into any narrative about Whitman either.


    • avatar Bob Mulholland says:

      It’s not the voters that Murphy & Whitman are worried about now. What worries them about this million dollar scheme being exposed is, will a US Attorney or a District Attorney ask- would Whitman have “invested” one million dollars into Mike Murphy’s Hollywood fantasy if she was not running for Governor? Absolutely not.

  2. avatar SezMe says:

    My problem with the FFT is the word, “processing”, especially when preceded with “comfortable”. How does a pol or pundit know that someone has processed information as opposed to simply ignored it? Or delved into it in depth? And how do they know whether that process was comfortable or not?

    Sounds like Kaus gobbledygook to me.

  3. avatar naomibs says:

    It was the LA Times which first found the entry:
    On politics in the Golden State

    More focus is put on Meg Whitman’s relationship with top advisor
    July 12, 2010 | 11:34 am

    Before Republican strategist Mike Murphy signed up with Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign, Whitman’s top Republican rival, Steve Poizner, expected Murphy to join his team. So what changed?

    It’s hard to say. But Whitman did invest $1 million in Murphy’s fledgling film company just before his apparent change of heart.

    The Times first reported Whitman’s investment in Murphy’s “Tools Down! Productions” in March. In an article Monday morning, the New York Times points to the investment as an example of how “wealthy candidates might use their fortunes to manipulate the electoral process,” and makes it clear that Team Poizner is still smarting from Murphy’s snub.

    Ironically, perhaps, it was an e-mail from Murphy that led Poizner to allege that Whitman was trying to bribe him out of the race by implying that Whitman would back his bid for U.S. Senate if he decided to switch races.

    — Anthony York in Sacramento

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      True, the LAT had the “investment,” but as you can see by reading the article in the link (page 2 BTW), the reporters didn’t realize what they had.

  4. avatar tegrat says:

    Just for the record, I prefer being referred to as a “Calbuzzard”, not a “Calbuzzer”, even if my over-caffeinated brain is suffering from FFT syndrome.

  5. avatar Moderate Democrat says:

    Nice roundup of stuff here today.

    From the looks of the announcement for the “Shared Prosperity Forum” to be held in Ventura, it is just another rally for unfettered immigration and labor unions friendly to Democrats. Hopefully Timm Herdt will cover this and see if anyone there dares dissent from the pandering paradigm that is overwhelming Democrats and alienating its moderate base that keeps voting and so far keeps contributing.

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