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Jerry, eMeg and the Goldman Sachs Connection

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Moments after Jerry Brown finished a press conference at the California Democratic Convention, where he had just challenged his Republican rivals to join him in a set of pre-primary debates, Calbuzz accosted him as he strode down the hall to his next event, trying to squeeze in one extra question.

“How about Goldman Sachs?” we asked him. “How important to the campaign is Meg Whitman’s connection?”

Brown’s eyes flashed red, smoke blew from his nostrils and fire flew off his tongue, but before he could answer, campaign manager Steve Glazer rushed up to protest: “We’re not giving not any walking interviews!”

And just like that, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor thought better of his impulse, smiled slightly and said, “If I answer that, you won’t write about the debates.”

Brown, with Glazer keeping tabs

The hallway scene at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Saturday morning spoke volumes about two important elements of Brown’s campaign for governor:

On one level it was a tribute to the indefatigable efforts of Glazer to work the impossible: keeping the famously undisciplined Brown from flapping his gums and straying from his appointed message.

It was also testament to Brown’s obvious desire to open a line of full-throated populist attack on GOP front-runner Whitman — portraying her as a tribune of corporate excess and Wall Street greed and using her multiple links to Goldman Sachs as Exhibit A in making the case.

With the Securities and Exchange Commission formally charging the huge investment bank with fraud last Friday, Brown’s campaign has been handed a fresh opportunity, not only to disrupt the Whitman campaign narrative that her executive business experience splendidly qualifies her for governor, but also to perform political jujitsu on the exorbitant campaign spending eMeg is fronting with her personal fortune.

At a time when public resentment runs high against Wall Street banks, and the obscene taxpayer bailouts they’ve received, the SEC’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs is a clear and high-visibility symbol of the avarice and recklessness that fed the recession-triggering sub-prime mortgage/credit default swap/collateralized debt obligation scandal (for those still trying to cut through the complexities of this, Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short” is a must-read).

No less a source than the Wall Street Journal, which included a sidebar on the governor’s race (subscription required) in its page one, double-truck Monday coverage of the SEC-Goldman case, forecast “the furor…could become a sticky issue” in the California campaign.

“Over the course of this campaign, I think the voters are going to be fully aware of Meg Whitman’s financial dealings at Goldman Sachs and they’ll hold her accountable for them,” Brown spokseman Sterling Clifford, told the Journal.

The esteemed Christian Science Monitor also weighed in with a piece on how the Goldman Sachs case could “roil” the governor’s race.

“Whitman has to demonstrate how she was not one of the black hats at Goldman Sachs. In other words, she’ll have to explain herself – not an enviable position for a candidate,”  Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., told the Monitor.

Calbuzz has previously published a leading expert’s analysis of eMeg’s involvement in the stock “spinning” scandal, perhaps the most problematic aspect of her Goldman Sachs connection, while Lance Williams and Carla Marinucci have reported on others, in a fully detailed primer on the issue  published jointly by California Watch and the Chronicle.

Candidate Meg Whitman touts her experience at eBay, the online auction hous

e that made her rich, but her career and personal fortune are entwined with another company: the Goldman Sachs investment bank, a major player in public finance in the state she wants to lead.

Whitman’s relationship with the giant Wall Street firm — as investor, corporate director and recipient of both insider stock deals and campaign donations — could pose conflicts of interest if the Republican front-runner is elected governor of California, critics say.

Some Whitman boosters, led by Republican blogger Bill Whalen, have been whistling past the graveyard, arguing that because Brown’s sister, former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, is a former Goldman Sachs executive, Jerry Brown will be loathe to gamble on going after Her Megness on the issue.

Putting aside the total false equivalency of the comparison, Calbuzz will be more than happy to take that bet.

Meanwhile, Over in Clovis: KTVU-TV got  eMeg to respond to Brown’s call for three-way debates:  “I think it’s a political stunt to avoid giving specifics. You know,  I have a very specific policy agenda that has been outlined and Jerry has not given a single specific plan on virtually any of the crises that face California.”

Whitman, of course, is right that the debate gambit was a political stunt. But a clever one that gave  the aforementioned Glazer license to reply:

“Perhaps because she has failed to vote for most of her adult life, Ms. Whitman doesn’t understand the voters need for straight talk and honest discussion in an election. Calling an unscripted debate about the serious challenges facing California a ‘political stunt’ shows total disregard for the voters.”

Furthermore, Glazer said,  “From the fake town hall she filmed for her infomercial (coming soon to a station near you) to the 48-page photo album she calls a ‘plan’ and using a business group as a front for attack ads, Meg Whitman has run a campaign wholly based on stunts.”

Sifting the Detritus of the CA Dem Convention

Monday, April 19th, 2010

It’s a measure of the small bore political stakes of the California Democratic Party convention that the weekend’s only drama played out over an inconclusive fight for the party’s endorsement in an internecine contest for lieutenant governor — a conflict over a second-tier office that has far more to do with personalities than policy.

During a two-day convention when one officeholder after another pleaded with 3,000 activists to match the passion of the conservative Tea Party movement in the 2010 campaign, the convention remained a mostly sedate affair, with delegates wistfully recalling the sense of purpose in President Obama’s historic 2008 victory, while trying to get excited about candidates for insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor, ferhevensakes.

“At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party (movement)” Senator Barbara Boxer candidly told reporters, “and I think it is absolutely a fact that we have to match that enthusiasm.”

This just in: in the long-awaited balloting in the Lite Gov’s race, S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom out-polled L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn, 52-to-42. According to a furious exchange of late-night spinning memos eblasted by the two camps, this was either a great victory for Hahn, for denying her rival the 60 percent needed for the endorsement, or a key tactical win for Newsom, who skunked his foe in her own back yard.

Zzzzzzz.

As a practical matter, the question of how much energy and enthusiasm the Dems can muster  — in a non-presidential election year, when the political winds now strongly favor Republicans, when the Donkey Ticket is led by two old war horses, aged 69 and 72, and when the GOP’s statewide entry is led by an Empire Strikes Back campaign bristling with more money than God -– will be a major factor in determining the size and make-up of the November electorate.

When handlers for Jerry Brown are only half-joking in telling reporters the party’s presumptive nominee for governor just needs to win by one vote, the question of turnout, and whether Democrats can expand the size of their base to pick up a sizable chunk of younger and independent voters, is crucial.

And you have to wonder how forward-thinking comprehensive a strategy the Democrats have for doing so, when party chairman John Burton says he thinks that a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana will be the key to motivating the under-30 crowd to come to the polls.

Brown insists he’s sanguine about his chances against Republican front-runner Meg Whitman, despite her surge in the polls and her clear intent to recycle many of the millions she pocketed from shady dealings at Goldman Sachs and other high-end investments. And, on one level at least, his unruffled display of patience is a reminder that it’s still very, very early in the campaign season – “I only have to win on one day,” he told reporters Saturday.

But facing a likely foe who’s equipped to outspend him by orders of magnitude, Brown faces a stark choice between spending his own resources defending himself over the summer, when either Whitman or fellow zillionaire wannabe governor Steve Poizner will surely be bashing him daily on the airwaves, or hanging on to his pile until fall, when voters will be more engaged.

Brown must hope that at least one of the several Independent Expenditure committees that have popped up with promises to help him – but have so far shown a far greater ability to trash Whitman than to raise cash to beat her – will gain enough traction to mount a serious summer TV campaign to go after the GOP nominee and watch Brown’s back.

IE operatives in the Calbuzz orbit tell us they believe they’ll have the money in place and a plan of attack to mount a TV-radio-internet-bus stop-anywhere-you-frequent campaign that will find like-minded voters — especially independents — during the summer, giving Brown some breathing room to husband resources for the fall. We’ll see.

“The rules of democracy are not changed just because a billionaire decides she wants to be governor,” Brown told Calbuzz. But the rules have changed — and Brown knows it.

Paging Pamela Harriman: In the absence of heavyweight political skirmishes at the convention, the sharpest competition played out over who put on the best party.

Speaker John Perez and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg tossed the Best Bash for the Masses, with their Saturday afternoon free Taco Truck Throwdown with mobile catering from such favorite as  Calbi Fusion (whose pulled pork was good but hardly Mexican)  and El Principio (which served up a killer carnitas).  Friday’s elegant soiree thrown by the  California Correctional Peace Officers union, with salmon caviar and free booze,  captured top honors in the Intimate Setting Category.

But in the end, Calbuzz can report with complete immodesty, the most entertaining event was the Second Annual Dr. P.J. Hackenflack’s Hack and Flack dinner at Café Pinot, where Brown Himself and heavyweight consultant Garry South got into a cage match battle over electoral strategy at one table, with LA political wheelhouse Donna Bojarsky and political analysts Sherry and Doug Jeffe in the mix. At another table Boxer strategist Rose Kapolcynski, Brown’s Steve Glazer, L.A. premier blogger Kevin Roderick and Laurel Canyon media meisters Julie Buckner and Celia Fischer all compared notes on the political landscape and the chocolate mouse gateau. Other Calbuzzers kicking around strategic insights included poll taker Ben Tulchin and his wife consultant Laurie Biejen,  Kaufman Campaigns’ Richard Stapler, plus reporters from the Chronicle, Media News, KQED and more, who dined on a choice of duo of beef, pan roasted Jidori chicken and Atlantic salmon.

Although Dr. H briefly considered hiring a couple of leg breakers to go after a couple of confirmed guests who were no shows (we know where you live) and one gate crasher, there were no injuries.

Paging Mr. Bartlett: Brown’s three best weird comments of the weekend:

1-“The menu is not the meal,” a big-think overview of where the governor’s race stands today. 2-“I believe in the  papal doctrine of subsidiarism,” a reference to his belief that government authority should be pushed back to locals from Sacramento. 3-”The sherpas will meet soon,” his proposal for a process of arranging debates between him and his Republican rivals.

We’re just sayin’: Can the Democratic party staff please arrange for Burton to have a makeover? The unbuttoned red safari shirt look makes him look like a cheesy Vegas weekend low-roller from Cleveland.