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Team eMeg: Dem Ad is a Plot to Pick a GOP Loser

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Meg Whitman’s campaign pushed back on a new $800K Democratic TV attack buy Friday, charging that the state party’s new ad is a cynical,  underhanded, union-financed effort to help Steve Poizner win the Republican nomination for governor.

And anyway, they insisted, it’s not an effective spot. All righty then: the food’s awful and the portions are too small.

Twelve hours after Calbuzz first reported that Jerry Brown’s campaign and the CDP had collaborated on the new hit, whacking eMeg as a sleazy Wall Street insider,  two of her strategists launched a two-track counter-attack on the effort:

They said it was not only “proof positive that the unions are trying to influence the Republican primary,” because they fear Whitman’s campaign promises to dump 40,000 state workers and cut public employee pension benefits, but also evidence that Poizner is a useful idiot who is the Democrat’s “clearly preferred candidate…. (because) they know he’s unelectable and they can beat him.”

Whitman communications director Tucker Bounds and senior adviser Rob Stutzman told political writers that their information, based on checks with TV stations around the state, was that the Dems were spending $800,000 on a buy that would run at least over the next four days.  Tenoch Flores, the CDP’s communications director, said the buy was “over $800,000” and would run for five days; the spot, among other things, hits eMeg for evading taxes through “an offshore shell game.”

On one level, the new CDP ad — authoritatively narrated by Peter Coyote — seeks support for legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) that aims to recover an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues lost by the United States each year as a result of corporations and citizens who dodge taxes by holding funds in offshore accounts in places like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. But that’s just in the last six seconds of a 30-second commercial. The first 24 seconds are used to attack eMeg, mostly for her connections to Goldman Sachs.

So any fair minded person viewing this ad would see it as an assault on Whitman, who is Exhibit A for “wealthy Wall Street insiders.” Calbuzz wanted to discuss the strategic political purpose of the ad, so we rang up CDP Chairman John Burton. He insisted the purpose of the ad is to support Levin’s anti-tax haven legislation (as if this were the No. 1 priority for the California Democratic Party).  When we said we were hoping to have an honest discussion about the political strategy of the ad, Burton exploded: “Are you calling me a liar? Fuck you!” And he hung up the phone. Hey Burton! Thanks for nothing, you jackass.

Brown’s spokesman Sterling Clifford (or Clifford Sterling, as our Department of Dyslexic Proper Names knows him) dismissed the notion that the Democrats want to help Poizner at Whitman’s expense. “The Republican party has two candidates who have rushed to embrace the extreme wing of their party,” he said. “Whichever one eventually gets the Republican nomination, we’re confident the people of California will choose Jerry Brown in November.”

BTW: Calbuzz predicts the CDP’s initial air time buy is just rope-a-dope (trying to avoid a Whitman counter assault) and that they’ll keep up the buy for a few more weeks.

What it all means: Poizner’s camp, basking in a momentum shift in the GOP race, dismissed the Whitman spin with its own, disdainful spin: “The Whitman Campaign has become a very expensive Humpty Dumpty,” said communications director Jarrod Agen, “and all of the Goldman Sachs money and all the hacks in Sacramento can’t put Meg’s campaign back together again.”

In a week when the Republican campaign was finally joined, after months in which Her Megness had the field to herself, the latest three-way exchange  makes clear that Whitman:

1-Will be forced to fight a two-front war over the next four weeks.

She’s now being whipsawed in an intriguing political dynamic, getting whacked from the right and left simultaneously on the very same issue – her close ties to Goldman Sachs.

Whistling past the graveyard, Bounds and Stutzman insisted that the Goldman-Sachs attack line is “not terribly effective” – while taking pains to point out Poizner’s own ties to the scandal-tainted investment bank (which Calbuzz reported on earlier this week), challenging reporters to put “sunlight on his investments” and point out his “hypocritical” stance on the issue.

No one has yet challenged the validity of the  extremely scientific Calbuzz calculation that Whitman scores 80% on the Goldman Sachs Taint of Scandal chart compared to just 15%  GSTS for Poizner and 5% for Brown.

2-Has lost control of the campaign narrative.

After months of stiffing the press – when a Wall Street Journal reporter asked eMeg a few months ago about her aversion to reporters, she answered that Some of these newspapers, as you know better than I, will not be around in the near termTeam Whitman has now convened two conference calls in three days in an effort to shape reporters’ stories, an attempt to redirect the emerging campaign meme that her once-big lead was based on soft support that’s quickly eroding.

3-Is being pushed hard to the right.

For much of the campaign to date, Whitman has been trying to position herself for a general election race. But with Poizner pressuring her hard on issues like immigration and his sweeping tax cut proposal, Bounds acknowledged Friday that eMeg will be more aggressive in efforts to portray her GOP rival as a demon sheep liberal and herself as “truly the most conservative candidate.” (HT to Steve Harmon of the Coco Times for raising the issue.) The negative comparative is  the point of her new spot ripping Poizner as a Prop. 13 supporter out to harm senior citizens.

Final word to Bounds: “There is plenty of evidence to suggest that…(Poizner)  is part of the Sacramento problem.”  Watch for more of this.

Press clip: Belated kudos to John Myers of KQED radio, who did a superb job of moderating the eMeg-Poizner smackdown the other night at San Jose’s Tech Museum.

Myers was firm but not overbearing in keeping control of the event throughout, did nice work in following up and forcing answers to questions from the panel the candidates ignored  – especially when he pressed eMeg to say whether  she did anything wrong on stock spinning (surprise, surprise, she said she didn’t) and tossed a gotcha question that put both candidates in Bambi-in-the-headlights mode. All this, plus he had the best tailored suit and crispest tie knot on the stage.

Just because: The slide show with this NYT piece is a riot.

New Dem Party/Brown Whack at eMeg on Goldman

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The California Democratic Party, coordinating with Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor, is expected today to launch an attack on Republican front-runner Meg Whitman in the form of an “issues” ad calling on Congress to “stop special favors for wealthy Wall Street insiders,” sources told Calbuzz on Thursday.

The assault — which the Brown campaign would not confirm — comes as private polling by Republican Steve Poizner, by Whitman and various other candidates and initiative campaigns shows the Republican race for governor now within 10 points, with Poizner closing fast.

The CDP/Brown effort is aimed at weakening Whitman even further, especially among independent voters who will be crucial in the general election. If, as a side benefit, the ad campaign also erodes Whitman’s standing in the GOP primary, so much the better, sources said.

Whitman is struggling to douse the fires rising from attention focused on the fact that Goldman Sachs gave her access to initial public stock offerings that she “spun” or resold for personal profit while she was CEO at eBay. Goldman Sachs got eBay’s investment banking business and Whitman was, for a time, also a member of Goldman’s board.

The practice of “spinning” was legal at the time, but was outlawed shortly after a Congressional investigation and about the same time Whitman resigned from the Goldman board and returned $1.78 million in profits to settle an eBay shareholder lawsuit.

Calbuzz has not seen the CDP/Brown ad itself, but it has been described by media industry sources. According to them, the ad notes that a judge called Whitman’s spinning an “obvious conflict of interest,” that she was “forced” to return her profits and that she has “secretive offshore accounts, managed by Goldman Sachs, used by the rich to avoid taxes.”

In the same way the California Chamber of Commerce briefly used an “issues ad” to attack Brown, the CDP and Brown are using an “issues ad” to attack Whitman. The difference is that the Chamber is officially a non-partisan organization and the California Democratic Party and the Brown campaign are anything but non-partisan.

Official state parties may legally coordinate activity with candidates for partisan office which is apparently the framework in which this ad campaign is crafted. How much money the CDP will put behind the ad — money that was likely raised by Brown — is yet unclear. But the initial buy is expected to be about $1 million.

And Other Lies: The biggest canard in Governor Arnold’s dishonest crock of a disingenuous argument for scheduling the special election for Abel Maldonado’s former senate seat in the middle of summer is the purported need to have all legislative hands on deck to vote on a new state budget.

“We think it’s important to have a full complement of senators as soon as possible,” said Schwarzmuscle mouthpiece Aaron McLear said.

Puh-leeze.

Putting aside the fact that the $20 billion red ink budget will probably get voted on closer to Christmas, the clear-eyed Timm Herdt makes the very excellent point that if 15th SD front-runner Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee wins – an outcome Schwarzenegger is clearly trying to guarantee by setting the special for August 17 – there’ll be an open Assembly seat awaiting yet another special election, by which time the mendacious McLear will be well into his next million or so deceits.

Besides his little hissy fit of spite over the Dems taking their time to confirm Maldo as Lite Guv, there’s one and only reason that Conan set the date when he did – because the senate Republican leaders leaned on him to put his thumb on the scale so Democratic front-runner and former Assemblyman John Laird doesn’t capture the seat and put them on the brink of the two-thirds majority needed for budget votes.

The merits of consolidating the run-off vote with the Nov. 2 statewide are clear and overwhelming: sparing Central Coast counties the $2.5 million price tag of indulging Arnold’s whim, boosting voter awareness and turnout in the sprawling district, ensuring that military voters stationed overseas are full enfranchised – a matter that is resonating even with conservatives – as well as a batch of voting rights issue raised by newly-filed litigation that Schwarzenegger’s triggered with his partisan action.

Bottom line to Laird: “I think it was a political play, the Senate Republican leadership attempting to advantage themselves in the special election.” And what motivated Schwarzmuscle? “He was responding to the Senate Republican leadership in advance of the budget,” said Laird.

What hath Sarah wrought: While Sarah Palin’s Facebook endorsement of Carly Fiorina in the Republican Senate race offers iCarly a nice boost in the primary, the political backing of the Thrilla from Wasilla will reek like stinking fish by the time the general election comes around, should the Hurricane win the GOP nomination.

There’s not a lot of hard data available about how Californians view Palin, but polling from her stint as the 2008 veep candidate makes it clear what a polarizing figure she was even back when she was still a borderline wing nut, before she crossed the border and became a total whack job. Shortly after the Republican National Convention where she made her national political debut, the Field Poll found Palin’s favorable to unfavorable rating among Californians stood at 43-43; less than two months later her image stood at 37-53 favorable-unfavorable.

The big shift came among independents: In the first weeks after Palin’s launch, they viewed her somewhat unfavorably, 36-45; by the time they’d been more fully exposed to her charms, shortly before the election, DTSs had a 20-65 unfavorable view of her, a 36 point swing. All this, of course, before Palin resigned as governor of Alaska and evolved into a full time media bore.

Even California Republicans became slightly less enamored over time: they viewed her favorably 81-12 during the September survey and 74-19 in October, a net decline of 13 points.

Still her seal of approval is a big deal for Fiorina in the right-wing dominated primary, and even more of one, in an opposite way, for Orange County Assemblyman Chuck Devore, the true Tea Partier in the race, whose supporters took to Palin’s Facebook page to complain about her endorsement of Fiorina.

As for front-runner Tom Campbell, we have a feeling Palin’s gratuitous dis of Dudley – “a liberal member of the GOP who seems to bear almost no difference to Boxer, one of the most left-wing members of the Senate” – will find its way onto the air in the next four weeks.

Upadate 6:40 am: At 10:09 pm Thursday the Whitman campaign sent out the following statement: “This is a clear effort by the California Democratic Party and labor unions to defeat Meg Whitman, because she is the only fiscal conservative in the race who will reform the failed pension system and solve the fiscal crisis in Sacramento. The California Democratic Party, the public employee unions, and Steve Poizner have struck an alliance to defeat Meg’s effort to disrupt the status quo in Sacramento.”

Rocky Poizner Battles Back Against eMeg Creed

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

There’s a great scene in “Rocky,” after underdog Sylvester Stallone has just hammered the arrogant heavyweight champion Apollo Creed with a couple of roundhouse lefts, and the champ’s corner man yells at him to stop preening and prancing around:

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show,” says Creed’s trainer.  “He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

The classic cinematic moment came to mind Wednesday, when Steve Poizner’s campaign for governor delivered a major blow against the mantle of inevitability that Republican primary rival Meg Whitman has worn for months:

After trailing eMeg by 40+ points as recently as a few weeks ago Team Steve trotted out a quartet of senior strategists for a conference call with political writers to proclaim that they’ve closed to within 10 points, with nearly five weeks to go before the June 8 election.

“The Meg Whitman campaign is one of these classic campaigns which is sort of somebody walking around with a paper bag full of water. It wasn’t going to leak, but once it went, it would go. And that process is very much underway,” said chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

That there is some substance behind their spin had already been demonstrated, when Whitman’s handlers – after learning about the upcoming Poizner press call — convened their own conference call, leapfrogging Poizner by 30 minutes. Pre-spin spin.

“Our polls have been tracking with the public polls and I would be very strong in suggesting take any internal poll spin 30-32 days out with a grain of salt and keep an eye on those public polls that aren’t paid for by an interested party,” said Whitman strategist Mike Murphy. “Still, I want to be very clear we have always expected this race to close, and I think we’ve been very direct in telling you guys that.”

Poizner, he said, has “spent about $14.5 million on negative advertising targeting Meg Whitman, most of it misleading and disingenuous, but it has served two purposes. One, it has confused Republican primary voters — and we’re going to get them unconfused–  and second it’s made Steve Poizner fundamentally unelectable in the general election.”

The dueling spin sessions heightened the growing sense of immediacy and aggressive engagement in the GOP race, building on the hostile tone of Sunday’s Meg-Steve debate, and the recent multi-million dollar volleys of attack ads the contenders are launching against each other, during every popular TV show from “Lost” to “Dancing with the Stars.”

And speaking of movies, the several hour spin cycle played out kind of like “Rashomon” with both sides looking at the same events and developments and offering entirely different interpretations. Here’s a look at the highlights:

Polling – Poizner trotted out Neil Newhouse and Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies to offer what they said were the key findings of their latest three night tracking poll (May 2-4, 800 undefined “likely Republican primary voters”). According to Newhouse, in the middle of February – the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” he called it – Poizner trailed Whitman 59-11%; now, he said, eMeg’s lead has been cut to 38-28%.

Both candidates now have negative impression ratings, he said, eMeg’s favorable-to-unfavorable at 25-49% and Poizner’s at 30-39%. “The more the voters see of Meg Whitman, the less they like her and the more they see of Steve Poizner the more they like him,” said Stevens.

Whitman’s Murphy did not actually dispute the ballpark numbers presented by Newhouse.  “We are holding a strong lead but we’re running this campaign like we’re one point behind.” He said Whitman is a “lot closer” to holding 50% of the GOP vote than Poizner is and that Whitman’s lead is “a double-digit number.”

Message – Stevens said that Whitman’s message had been “muddled” – “they’re attacking Steve for not being conservative enough, but she’s never even said she’s a Republican” – and that Team eMeg had committed a  blunder by coming out of the box very early with negative attacks on Poizner instead of laying down a positive track. He said the Whitman campaign “made a strategic error attacking Steve so early” with ads that ridiculed, belittled and made fun of Poizner. “Voters have reacted very negatively to that,” he said, “they’ve been oversold.”

Stevens refused to say what Poizner’s mix of negative to positive ads would be.

It’s clear that Poizner will be seeking to dash against one of Whitman’s strongest arguments: inevitability; “I think it is remarkable that Whitman has failed to really lock down this race with the amount of spending she’s done so far,” said Newhouse. “It makes you wonder whether that can be corrected by spending even more money down the road. This race is still yet to be decided. We still have a lot of time left in this campaign. And voters are moving at a fairly rapid pace. If Whitman is unable to reverse this trend, then I think you are looking at a real upset here in the making.”

Murphy continued to argue inevitability. “We’re now in a debate over whether Steve Poizner will lose huge, lose medium, or lose a little tighter,” he said. “A vote for Poizner is really in many ways a vote for Jerry Brown because Commissioner Poizner has made himself completely unelectable in the general election.”

He said Whitman is “the only fiscal conservative” in the race and suggested that the campaign would be mailing strongly negative material about Poizner to voters in the coming days.

He also sought to turn Whitman’s Goldman Sachs taint back on Poizner. “The Goldman Sachs ad I know is a big spin item to the Poizner campaign but I don’t know I think it’s got to spin heavy and the full Goldman story has not been told,” Murphy said. He then threw out an allegation for which he offered not a shred of evidence: “I think Mr. Poizner should release his Goldman transactions during that time, during the tech boom when he was a wealthy individual there and I bet 50,000 that those returns would show that Steve Poizner participated in the same kind of IP shares that he’s accusing Meg Whitman of getting.”

Mechanics – The Whitman handlers stressed that their campaign has superior organization, including phone banks and  voter contact. In addition to endorsements like the Farm Bureau and former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the campaign has built a huge volunteer structure, said consultant Jeff Randle.

“We are up and running in all 58 counties across the state,” he said. “ We have 15,000 committed volunteers that are out working for us at this stage of the campaign that’s more than any statewide campaign, gubernatorial campaign, that I’ve ever seen in this state. We’ve got phone banks going every night. We’ve got four field offices around the state: LA, Orange County, San Diego and the Bay Area. We started our volunteer program last night, we’ve made almost 100,000 phone calls in the first week. You’ll see yard signs popping up all over the state here in the next couple of days for Meg. On the stump you see crowds continue to grow, there’s excitement, there’s momentum, there’s buzz.”

Murphy predicted that a huge proportion of the electorate – 30-35% — would cast their votes as permanent absentees by the end of May suggesting that the notion that there’s still a lot of time left to move against Whitman is a fallacy.

Stevens mocked the notion that Whitman is “a grassroots candidate” and said the fact that Murphy was talking about process was a sign that their messaging had failed.

Jim Brulte, chairman of the Poizner campaign disputed Murphy’s assertion that a third of primary voters would cast ballots so early because of the many high-visibility propositions that voters will want to study before coming to a conclusion and mailing in their ballots.

Perhaps the most intriguing subject was one that was not discussed: unlike most other campaigns, there was no mention of fundraising, normally cited by campaigns as a marker of progress or success. With the two zillionaire squaring off, money is not obviously no object.

Calbuzz bottom line- The Republican race has now been joined and the big winner in yesterday’s spin war was the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Said Murphy, calling Poizner a “surrogate” for the attorney general and the labor unions: “The one person who’s enjoying this more than anyone else is Jerry Brown.”



Measuring Goldman Taint; More on Arnold Flip Flop

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Alert readers might have noted that Calbuzz has, in recent weeks, paid a lot of attention to billionaire Meg Whitman’s links to Goldman Sachs.  They may also have gleaned that we kinda, sorta think that the stock spinning made possible by Goldman when eMeg was CEO of eBay, was, well, pretty darn unethical.

So when Steve Poizner pounced on eMeg’s Goldman taint, we gave The Commish a pretty good ride. But let’s be honest: Poizner’s not some poor schmo with a tin cup begging for nickels so he can run for governor. A zillionaire himself, he is certainly no Goldman Virgin.

In fact, back in 2004 when he was running for the Assembly, (as a Republican, btw when eMeg wasn’t even a registered voter, let alone a Republican – but we digress)* Poizner got himself a $500,000 loan on VERY favorable, preferential, best-customer terms (the federal funds rate + 60 basis points ) from Goldman Sachs. He repaid the loan about six months later, but he got use of the money at practically no cost – terms he was afforded because the loan was backed by his personal assets in a Goldman brokerage account (as noted in his 12/03 FPPC Form 700).

The whole loan and other complex Poizner/Goldman details are spelled out over at Whitman’s favorite conservative blog (at least she pays them huge amounts for her ads over there) Red County. The loan has also been noted here, here, here and here. Point being, the Whitman folks have shopped this one around, trying to suggest, “Hey, Poizner’s got just as much of a problem with Goldman Sachs as Meg does.”

But an exclusive Calbuzz analysis of the Goldman Sachs Taint of Scandal accruing to each of the candidates for governor – let’s not forget Attorney General Jerry Brown’s sister works there and the city where he was mayor had a credit deal with Goldman – demonstrates that the GSTS Factor for Whitman is 80%, compared to 15% for Poizner and 5% for Brown. (See chart above)

Bottom line: This is how smart, New Media Age guys and news gatherers avoid falling prey to the dreaded False Equivalence Syndrome – by scientifically analyzing the metrics and measurables of any given scandal – taking into account, of course, a margin or error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Terminator terminates T-Ridge: Gov. Schwarzmuscle’s stunning, 180-degree flip flop on offshore drilling near Santa Barbara astonished us for many reasons – not least of which was the utter lack of political grace he displayed towards his erstwhile environmental allies, whom he totally hung out to dry.

“Arnold loves to do that – it’s part of his control issues,” said former Assembly member and T-Ridge environmental  booster Hannah Beth Jackson. “Consistency and rationality have never bothered him in the least.”

In delivering a sudden and unexpected coup de grace to the fiercely debated Tranquillon Ridge project on Monday, Arnold totally blindsided the embattled coalition of Santa Barbara environmental activists who had put reputations, credibility and personal friendships on the line in fighting for the plan for the last two years.

Having appropriated for his own purposes a complex legal agreement over leasing arrangements that Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center had reached with the Houston-based PXP oil company, Schwarzenegger couldn’t be bothered giving the enviros a heads-up before airily dismissing the painstakingly negotiated deal as if he were dispatching a fly, during the course of a press conference he’d called on an entirely different issue.

“We had absolutely no idea this was coming,” said Linda Krop, general counsel for the EDC, who spent nearly three years working on the PXP agreement, and who’d been enlisted by Schwarzenegger’s Department of Finance in his own, budget driven efforts to gain approval for it. “We were completely surprised.”

Krop only learned that Schwarzenegger had switched his position more than an hour after his press conference, when reporters started to call. The architect of the EDC-PXP deal,  she has long argued that giving the company  a short-term lease to drill into state waters, from a platform it already operates in federal waters, is a worthwhile trade off for its promise to end permanently most of its federally leased drilling in the region.

Whatever you think, as a policy matter, of the agreement she crafted – and environmentalist opinion was bitterly polarized on the issue – Krop is a smart, determined and passionate coastal protection advocate who’s paid her dues and deserves better than being dissed by a muscle-bound, metrosexual movie actor without a principled bone in his sagging body.

Whaddya mean you work for me? Of course, enviros don’t seem to be the only ones who failed to see Schwarzenegger’s switcheroo coming.

Last Saturday, Chronicler Marisa Lagos did a good piece probing whether the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe had triggered any rethinking within the Administration about its full-square support of the T-Ridge project. No effin’ way, one of Conan’s army of mouthpieces insisted to her:

As oil spewed Friday from a blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico and spread into Louisiana’s sensitive wetlands and rich fishing grounds, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration defended a plan to allow new drilling off California’s Central Coast.

A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the proposed Tranquillon Ridge project off Santa Barbara County is attractive because the oil company behind the project has agreed to end drilling off the coast in exchange for a permit to do so for the next 14 years…

“This doesn’t really change anything, because we’re looking at a platform that’s already in operation,” said Jeff Macedo, the governor’s spokesman. “If anything this makes the T-Ridge project that much more important, because it would put a sunset date on when it shuts down.”

Oh, never mind.

Two days later, Schwarzenegger stood before reporters and sounded exactly the opposite opinion.

Without the simple courtesy of telling someone to pick up the phone and let the pro-T-Ridge environmentalists know what he was about to do, Arnold instantly and categorically rejected the entire environmental argument in favor of the project.

He not only turned his back on his previously stated certainty that the PXP deal, by aiming to close out currently open-ended federal offshore leases, would actually make an oil spill near Santa Barbara less likely; he also shrugged off the importance of the $100 million the project would have brought to the state annually – after more than a year of thundering about the crucial importance of that money to California’s fiscal condition.

Not surprisingly, he said he changed his mind after watching TV.

* correction

Yo, AP! What, Exactly, Does Meg Whitman Regret?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

When we read the story by Juliet Williams of the Associated Press in which she wrote: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman said [last] Tuesday she regrets taking part in a now-banned stock sale practice at Goldman Sachs . . .” we searched for a quote to back up the statement that Whitman had expressed “regret.”

There wasn’t one. “The lesson learned about it is you have to be extra vigilant about seeing any actual or perceived conflict of interest,” Whitman said. “I missed the signposts here.”

Williams wrote: “Whitman, a billionaire, said she forfeited the profits from the stock sales as part of the settlement to end the distraction of the lawsuit. She said the practice was part of the ‘normal course of business’ at the time.”

“As I look back on it, would I do it again? No,” Whitman said. However, she was also quoted saying, “There was no link between accepting these IPO shares and funneling business to Goldman.”

We tried to speak to Williams about this to find out if she had a quote in her interview in which Whitman had expressed regret about the actions she had taken in regard to Goldman Sachs – not just the legal and political fallout. But we couldn’t get through to the reporter; we were cut off by John Raess, AP’s San Francisco Bureau Chief, who referred us to corporate AP in New York for a response. More on that later.

We were concerned that Williams had attributed “regret” to Whitman that the former eBay CEO herself did not feel. Let’s be clear, “regret,” according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is “1. to feel sorry about or mourn for (a person or thing gone, lost, etc.) 2. to feel troubled or remorseful over (something that has happened, one’s own acts, etc.) – n. 1. a troubled feeling or remorse over something that has happened, esp. over something that one has done or left undone . . .”

Our suspicion was confirmed when, in Sunday’s debate, Carla Marinucci of the Chronicle asked Whitman, and John Myers of KQED re-asked, whether she had done anything wrong in the Goldman Sachs spinning incident. Whitman replied:

“I did not do anything wrong. It was a legal and standard practice. With 20-20 hindsight, would I do it again? No, because it was called into question.”

By now it was pretty clear that Whitman didn’t regret what she’d done – she regretted what happened afterward. So we asked her spokesman Tucker Bounds whether Meg regretted having been involved in spinning IPOs that were made available to her by Goldman Sachs.

“Yes. I think the Associated Press report was completely accurate,” said Bounds, who sat in on the interview. “She’s expressed a lot of regret about the issue.”

But wait, we asked. If she did nothing wrong, what does she regret?

“That there was a perceived conflict of interest when one did not exist,” Bounds replied. “Perception is reality and that’s where the regret comes from.”

In other words, Whitman is not sorry. She’s not remorseful about what she did. She sees nothing unethical. No conflict of interest. No illicit insider advantage. She doesn’t think she did anything wrong (even if it was condemned and outlawed later on).

And that’s why the AP story was so  misleading. By writing that Whitman had regrets, Williams suggested that the former eBay boss felt some remorse about what she had done when nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing Whitman regrets is that what she did was perceived to be unethical. As far as she’s concerned it was not only legal, it was just fine.

Which brings us back to our complaint to AP.

Having been told we could not talk to Juliet Williams and that we had to speak to New York, we did and, after a long conversation with Jack Stokes in Media Relations, we were encouraged to send an email outlining our complaint.

Here’s some of what we said:

It’s my belief that unless Juliet has a quote in which Whitman expresses regret, then this was an over-interpretation by the writer of an emotion which the writer has no basis to know. How do we know Whitman “regrets” what she did? We know she says she wouldn’t do the same again because it was perceived to be a conflict of interest. But we have no way of knowing — at least from the quotes Juliet shared — that Whitman has any regrets.

The evidence suggests that Whitman strongly believes — because this is what she says — that she, in fact, did nothing wrong. What is there to regret, except that the whole thing was perceived to be a conflict of interest and has since caused her some political inconvenience?

I am not interested in seeking unpublished material from Juliet. I’d prefer if she published the material she has that substantiates what she wrote and that her editors would demand it. In fact, good editing here ought to dig down to the issue of whether a reporter has overstepped her knowledge base and written something for which she actually has no substantiation. This is a common problem in political reporting where writers characterize the motives and emotions of politicians instead of simply reporting the effect of their statements or actions. How does Juliet know that Whitman regrets what she did? How does AP know this?

Before we sent that note to AP we had received an email from Raess that informed us: “After talking with Juliet and with Tom Verdin [AP’s California political editor] I think we’ll let the story speak for itself. I’m confident it’s an accurate reflection of the interview. I’d be happy to discuss this with you personally.”

And now that Bounds has said the story is “completely accurate,” we don’t expect AP will do anything to repair the misimpression its story created. They’ll figure it’s case closed and that they’ve been vindicated.

They haven’t, of course. They were just used by the Whitman campaign.

Team eMeg wants the news media to say Whitman has expressed regret while, at the same time, never actually forcing their candidate to express genuine regret – which she can’t because as far as she’s concerned, she did nothing wrong.

SCHWARZMUSCLE PULLS PLUG ON T-RIDGE: As Calbuzz suggested almost two weeks ago, the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico kills plans to revive drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara with the Tranquillon Ridge project.

Monday, Gov. Schwarzenegger announced: “That will not happen in California . . . I’m sure that they also were assured that it is safe to drill,” he said. “You turn on television and you see this enormous disaster, and you say to yourself, why would we want to take that risk?”

Which kills the Houston-based PXP Co. project at the State Lands Commission. It’s dead. Done. Kaput.

Leaders of Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center, the enviro sponsors of the PXP deal – which they’ve argued would lead to an earlier end to existing drilling in the region – said they were “very surprised and disappointed” in Schwarzenegger’s move.

Which is understandable, since the governor was still publicly backing the proposal as late as last Friday, and yesterday’s out-of-left field announcement totally pulled the rug out from under EDC. Still they continued to insist the T-Ridge plan is the way to go:

Our plan, negotiated as part of a settlement agreement, would have provided the only legal and available means to put an end to existing oil drilling off our coast…

In terms of next steps, we have no choice but to wait and see what unfolds.  We challenge those who have opposed our plan to tell us how they intend to shut down these platforms and thus reduce the threat of oil spills off our coast.  Maintaining the status quo only perpetuates the existing risks.

As a political matter, the biggest winner in the  situation is Pedro Nava, the termed out Santa Barbara Assemblyman who’s running for AG, who has fiercely battled the proposal since it surfaced more than two years ago. Said Nava:

I am pleased that Governor Schwarzenegger now agrees with me, Florida’s Governor Charlie Christ and, 110 other environmental organizations that the PXP proposal to drill three miles off the California coast is a bad idea and not worth the risk. We welcome the Governor’s change of heart. .

Now it’s time for PXP to pack up their tent and abandon their plans to open up the California coast to new, dirty, and dangerous offshore oil drilling.

This just in: Sarah Palin says she hopes the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico won’t lead to distrust of oil companies. Spill, baby, spill.