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Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category



Press Clips: One Woman I-Team Sacks Tax Board

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Mega-kudos to Laura Mahoney, Sacramento correspondent for the Daily Tax Report and the winner of the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting, for a superb, 25,000-word probe of the powerful, under-the-radar state Board of Equalization.

The only journalist who regularly covers the board, she  spent 18 months reporting and writing the five-part series, which reveals an incontrovertible pay-to-play connection between campaign contributions to its elected members and the outcome of tax appeals on which they rule.

“I realized when (the project) took me as long as it did to gestate my babies, I was in trouble,”  said Mahoney, a mother of two.

Known as “the Board of Eeek!” to generations of California reporters who quake with fear at the mere thought of covering complex financial stories, the BOE not only administers billions of dollars of tax collections, but also adjudicates disputes about them between the state and corporations or individuals.

Mahoney reports that California’s is the only such elected board in the nation with those dual roles. With its members (four are elected from districts of about 8 million people each, the fifth is the state controller) as dependent on special interest campaign cash as every other state pol, the  big accounting, law and other professional firms that do business with the board, along with their  PACs and high-end clients, are only too happy to accommodate.

Mahoney is a 20-year veteran of the Daily Tax Report, the flagship of BNA, a Washington-based publisher of  periodicals focused on high-level, specialized policy reporting for business and government. Besides the extraordinary level of detail and data analysis in her pieces, the strength of her reporting is the understated, dispassionate style and tone of her writing (kinda like us!), which makes her relentless accumulation of fact upon fact upon fact, and the conclusions she derives from it, that much more powerful. A summary of her findings begins:

Taxpayers with complex tax dispute cases before the California State Board of Equalization were more likely to win their cases if they or their representatives made campaign contributions to the elected board members, either directly or through political action committees, according to a detailed examination by Daily Tax Report, a BNA publication.

In a series of reports, BNA examined the outcomes of 70 complex, high-stakes cases argued before the board between 2002 and 2009, and compared those cases to publicly available campaign finance records.

BNA found more than $1 million in contributions to board members from taxpayers or their representatives who argue those cases before the board. All of the contributions were legal and contributors who spoke to BNA denied any causality between their contributions and success before the board.

We just bet they did. Check this:

However, a correlation appears to exist between contribution levels and success before the board, based on BNA’s original research.  BNA found that 20 of the 70 cases examined had less than $250 tied to them, and those taxpayers won their cases 30 percent of the time.

Success rates rose with higher contribution rates. Dividing the remaining cases in equal groups, BNA found another 17 cases had between $250 and $16,000 in contributions tied to them, and those taxpayers won 53 percent of the time. The next group of 16 cases had $16,000 to $50,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 75 percent of the time. The last group of 16 cases had $50,000 to $137,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 88 percent of the time.

Huh. Imagine that.

There’s lots more good stuff, as Mahoney names names, dissects the politics of the board’s operations and weighs the policy implications of what she found.

One of the conclusions of the final report of the governor’s tax reform commission released last year was that California should create an independent board to handle the politically charged issue of tax appeals.  So far, no one in the Administration or Legislature has seen fit to try to push such a reform.

After reading Mahoney’s special report, someone really, really should.

Cutting room floor:

Finally someone notices that the  “anti incumbent wave” of primary season is all about Republicans.

Lou Cannon’s take on mid-terms: mercifully free of heavy breathing

We’re still working our way through Todd Purdum’s big Vanity Fair piece on what’s wrong with Washington ‘cuz we keep stopping where he says $3.5 billion got spent on lobbying last year – $1.3 million for each day Congress was in session.

World’s only human shorter than Barbara Boxer gets it pretty much right.

Judge Vaughn Walker: liberal elite insider. Uh, wasn’t he appointed by a Republican?

What’s Obama’s problem?

A-He’s too condescending.

B-He thinks he’s Prime Minister.

C-He sold out much too fast.

D-He’s totally incompetent.

E-He doesn’t have a problem.

F-He’s easily intimidated.

G-His problem lies in the very nature of man.

Calbuzz sez: B, C and F.

In case you missed it: Since the whole dispute over the Manhattan Islamic community center erupted, we’ve been determined to keep Calbuzz a Ground Zero Mosque Free Zone. But we finally came across something that sums up our take, thanks to Aasif Mandvi.

How the FPPC Should (and Shouldn’t) Meddle Online

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Calbuzz is generally not too keen on any regulatory movement, cause or organization, especially not one that’s intent on regulating us. But we have to say there are good reasons to extend – carefully — to the online world some of the disclosure requirements on political campaigns that now apply in the old media world of broadcast and print.

The trick is for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission to use a light touch so as not to kill the baby in the crib. Internet political communications still are in their infancy. You Tube, for example, by which so much of today’s online political messaging is conveyed, wasn’t even created until February 2005 and it didn’t really catch on in the political world until the 2008 cycle.

When the FPPC considers rule-making this fall, the fundamental principle should be this:

Keep the burden of disclosure on the candidates, campaigns and advocates without creating undue burdens on the media through which they choose to communicate. (Especially us.)

We agree with the FPPC report on this issue that:

When a committee or candidate engages in campaigning, the public should know that the communication is being paid for, regardless of the form that communication takes. In the current networked world, political communication by a regulated committee or candidate that occurs over the Internet is the functional equivalent of a broadcast ad, and an email is the functional equivalent of a mailer.

Fortunately, the FPPC and its staff have been cautious, open and deliberate as they approach the issue. They recognize, for example “that it is difficult to regulate a moving target. Innovation is not predictable and could be stifled by moving too quickly and regulating too strictly.”

Who’s paying for what: The FPPC report recognizes that you can’t require the same disclosure for a postage-stamp-sized web ad, a tweet or a Facebook message that you demand in a TV commercial. But you could require that a web ad or even the name of a tweeter or Facebooker  who’s pushing campaign communications should link to a page on which it’s disclosed who is behind the message so that an online reader understands where the message is coming from and who’s paying for it.

As the report noted:

Some paid advertising does not allow adequate room for disclaimers required by current law (e.g., some forms of electronic advertisements, twitter communication, etc.). In those cases, candidates and committees must provide information in ways that are practicable given the limitations of the medium (e.g., on the website that is accessed when one clicks on an ad; on pages providing information about the source of tweets; on appropriate places in social networking sites; through information that pops up when the mouse is rolled over word or phrase).

The Maryland Board of Elections recently passed new electronic media rules to provide just such flexibility. The Maryland regulations provide that if electronic media advertisements are too small (e.g., a micro bar, a button ad, a paid text advertisement that is 200 characters or less in length, or a small paid graphic or picture link) to contain an “authority line,” the ads will comply with the required disclosure of the political committee authorizing the message if the ad allows the viewer to click on the electronic media advertisement and the user is taken to a landing or home page that prominently displays the authority line information.

That makes sense to us.

Sock puppets and web whores: There’s one place where we’re not sure the FPPC goes far enough: requiring online communicators like bloggers to disclose if they are being paid by a campaign or political committee for more than the standard value of their advertising.

The rationale for not requiring disclosure by sock-puppet bloggers is this: 1) the FPPC does not want to dampen robust free speech on the internet and 2) payments to bloggers will be disclosed in the campaign or political committee’s expenditure reports.

We heartily agree with the principle of doing nothing to dampen free speech on the Internet,or anywhere else. But there is a big difference between Steve Poizner placing an ad on Calbuzz at the same rate that ad space is sold to anyone else, compared to Meg Whitman paying $15,000 a month to Green Faucet, the parent of the Red County blog, in order to secure a steady stream of favorable coverage and support masquerading as news coverage.

One is just a business transaction in which the web site selling advertising is not a paid mouthpiece for a campaign but instead a free agent on the Internet.

The other is little more than paid campaign communications. Blogs that are subsidized by a political committee – and who have thereby crossed the line into paid advocacy — ought to be required to make that clear to their readers.

Voluntary disclosure is not good enough. There are too many unscrupulous cheats out there and too many web whores. Moreover, it’s nothing for a campaign with big resources to set up a web site that looks like a neutral observer but which is, in reality, just an extension of the campaign.

At the very least, expenditure reports should be modified to specify  “internet communications,” and “online advertising.” Something along the lines in the FPPC report, which calls for:

…requiring that expenditure reports contain more detail of payments for activity on the Internet, including payments to bloggers, so that these payments can be more easily discerned. The brief description on the expenditure report would include the name of the recipient of payment for electronic communication, the purpose of the payment, and the name of website or other similar address where the communication (blog, tweet, Facebook page, etc.) appears.

For now, the report says:

We do not recommend requiring disclosure in blogs at this time because of our concern about stifling this robust and growing source of political discourse. We considered an alternative that would require bloggers compensated by a campaign committee to disclose on their blogs that they have material connections to a campaign. This was based, in part, on a recent Federal Trade Commission guideline requiring bloggers endorsing products to disclose their financial connections to the manufacturers of the product. Requiring disclosure of paid bloggers would also be analogous to Section 84511 of the PRA mandating disclosure of paid spokespersons in ballot measure ads.

We recommend instead that the Commission continue to monitor the development of activity on weblogs and assess whether disclosure through expenditure reports is sufficient to ensure voters know when a blogger is part of a political campaign and when she is acting as an interested citizen expressing her political views. If the Commission determines that the failure to require more disclosure of compensated political bloggers has undermined the right of the public to be informed about the course of political communication, the issue of appropriate regulation should be revisited.

Calbuzz prediction: unless the FPPC requires disclosure, plenty of unethical bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers will fail to tell readers who’s buying their loyalty.

In search of a bright line: There are some other issues still to be fleshed out. For example, who is to be considered “news media” and who is not.

The report says the Political Reform Act’s media exemption (on advocacy) “should be interpreted to include online media sources, whether or not they also participate in print or broadcast media.”

Importantly, however, blogging should not automatically be considered to trigger the media exemption unless the blog meets the standards for being considered part of the media. It is not necessary to expand the media exemption to include uncompensated bloggers who are unaffiliated with campaigns because they are protected by the exemption recommended above for volunteer uncompensated political communication.

This gets really tricky.

Relevant passages in the Political Reform Act define news media as “a regularly published newspaper, magazine or other periodical of general circulation which routinely carries news, articles and commentary of general interest” or “a federally regulated broadcast outlet” or certain kinds of newsletters or regularly published periodicals.

What does that make an online political news site like Calbuzz? Or partisan sites like Calitics or FlashReport? Or an aggregator like Rough & Tumble? All of which have or would gladly accept, advertising from candidates and political committees. What would you call Red County? Or California Majority Report? Do they “meet certain standards for being considered part of the media?” Or are they advocates for causes and candidates?

Click on the “eBay: Don’t Buy It Now” ad on this page and you get taken to California Working Families which tells you the page is “Paid for by California Working Families for Jerry Brown for Governor 2010, a Coalition of Public Employees, Firefighters, and Building Trades Organizations. I.D. # 1324632.  Not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.” That’s the way it should work.

Likewise, if you click on “It’s Time for a New California” on the FlashReport home page, you get taken to Meg Whitman’s campaign home page which tells you at the bottom “Paid for by Meg Whitman For Governor 2010.” They probably ought to include their FPPC identification, but that’s a quibble.

But if you click on erichogue on Twitter, there’s no way to know that the screeching right-wing tweets from the conservative radio commentator just might be influenced by that $1,000 payment he got in the last reporting period from the Whitman campaign.

So what’s his Hogue News?  He’d like us to believe his site is “news media.” But he’s already proved he’s a for-rent mouth breather. Trouble is, the only people who know are those who’ve followed the arcane news about campaign finance or those who’ve read through Whitman’s expenditure reports and stumbled across the payment to him.

It won’t do for the FPPC to define “news media” in a way that includes only the dead and dying old media, as the current regulations do. But it also won’t do to ignore the fact that some online practitioners feel no compunction to level with the public about their status as paid advocates.

Plenty of free parking: Calbuzz would be happy to participate in further discussions with the FPPC on these issues. And if the FPPC would like to buy an ad on our site, they can find the rate card right here.

Meyer Looks at Meg’s Big Bill (With Apologies to Ben)

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

“Silence is not always a sign of wisdom, but babbling is ever a folly,” Ben Franklin once said. Good advice in politics, especially as we watch the race for California governor. Jerry Brown’s Zen-like silence may or may not be an indication of wisdom: we’ll know soon enough. We’ll also know whether voters conclude that the $100 million or so Meg Whitman has spent on TV ads is nothing more than babbling.

Today, Calbuzz Editorial Pen Swordsman Tom Meyer memorably looks at In Meg We Trust.

Was It Something We Said? We now have the official, break-our-hearts turndown from the Whitman campaign. Jerry Brown accepted but eMeg won’t join us, FlashReport and Calitics in a debate. Here’s the break-up letter:

Silver bullet for silver fox? Mega-kudos to Brian Joseph, the OC Register’s man in Sacramento, who’s dug out one helluva’ story about Jerry Brown’s pension or, more precisely, the mystery surrounding Jerry Brown’s pension.

Joseph, who spent weeks trying to get to the bottom of how many actual public dollars Krusty is due for serving, variously, one term as secretary of state, two terms as governor and one term as attorney general, came up with one terrific yarn about a scam called the “Legislators Retirement System” which was so shady it got banned by Proposition 140, the 1990 term limits initiative. Almost, kinda, sort of…

Turns out that a handful of very lucky, past and present state officials are still benefiting from the LRS’s very generous terms including, apparently, one Edmund G. Brown, Jr. Seems that it’s impossible to report the exact terms of Gandolf’s pension because the administrators of the double secret pension fund are sworn to confidentiality about its workings, terms and beneficiaries. Move along, nothing to see here…

Sterling Clifford, Brown’s otherwise talented campaign flack, has been doing a lot of very intensive tap dancing, in a vain effort to deflect Joseph’s multiple and persistent questions about the matter, but his answers to date have been, to put it charitably, unsatisfactory.

Calbuzz sez: This is a very serious issue for Brown, and he needs to quickly, and with great transparency, get all the facts out into the public domain about a) what he’s getting; b) what’s he already got and; c) what’s he due to get in the future from state pension systems. As soon as possible. Also: really, really fast.

Brown has done textbook nice work in making hay about the one-for-the-books City of Bell scandal. With its outrageous details about local government salaries, benefits and tax rip-offs, Bell has become the highest of high-profile symbols of government profligacy, in a year of taxpayer utter disgust with government.

But if Brown doesn’t come clean, and soon, about the terms of his pension, this issue will bite him the ass, big time, for three key reasons:

1-Brown’s recent outrage and self-righteous investigations of the Bell matter are going to turn to dust, of the most hypocritical kind, if it turns out he’s been living large on exactly the same kind of scam as he’s publicly decrying – and probing – in that community.

2-The official secrecy surrounding Brown’s pension belies the narrative he’s pushing about his fundamental integrity and monkish frugality, in contrast to Meg Whitman’s corporate greedhead lavishness, in a way that will rebound to her considerable advantage in what you like to call your Reasonable Man Test.

3-Brown’s so-far brilliant, gravity-defying ability to position himself as the outsider to eMeg’s insider – using political ju-jitsu to use her extraordinary campaign spending to portray her as the de facto incumbent in the governor’s race – will fall to earth and crash.

Should she put a couple million bucks behind ads that assail him as a dissembling, evasive scumbag who, with his pension, is ripping off the public trust he’s proclaiming in public he’s working overtime to protect (not exactly a long shot possibility) Brown will spend the next month trying to explain the pension checks he’s cashed, not to mention the stubs sitting in the top drawer of his bureau.

Somebody – most logically the Orange County Register – should file a Public Records Act request to get all the documents and data pertaining to Brown’s state pension (damn the personnel information exemption). Calbuzz will gladly lend our extraordinary financial resources to assist any such legal effort as a friend of the court.

Ballad for a Friday night after getting dumped by eMeg:

Within eMeg’s $110 Million: Payoffs to Sock Puppets

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

After one day off, we just couldn’t help ourselves:

Spend a little time reading through Meg Whitman’s 691-page campaign finance doorstop report and you understand why Jerry Brown is, as one of his friends put it Monday, “completely freaked out” about how much money is being spent against him. And why he has tried to get every Democratic consultant in the western hemisphere (and a couple of Republicans, too) to work for him for free.

Whitman has now reported spending nearly $100 million, including $14.7 million just between June 8, when primary season ended and June 30, the end of the reporting period. That doesn’t event count July, when she upped her ad buy. Which means that when you count her monthly expenses and her TV and radio time, she’s likely spent about $110 million to date.

Meanwhile, Brown spent about $633,000 in the reporting period and has somewhere around $24 million in cash on hand – enough to cover his campaign and maybe eight to 10 weeks of advertising.

That eMeg is swamping Krusty in spending is not even a story any more. The fun is in the details. Here’s how Steve Harmon of the Contra Costa Times broke it down:

– $64.3 million on TV, radio, and the Web;
– $9.7 million on campaign consultants (including $861,474 on her chief strategist, Mike Murphy, a total that engulfs the $83,000 that Jerry Brown has spent on his campaign manager, Steven Glazer);
– $7.6 million on campaign literature and mailings;
– $4.3 million on campaign workers’ salaries and health insurance (including $196,000 to communications director Tucker Bounds, plus $7,349 for meetings and appearances; — – $125,311 for spokeswoman Sarah Pompei, plus $29,481 on travel and lodging; and $101,288 plus $3,968 on travel and lodging for top oppo-research aficianado, Dan Comstock; and, not to be overlooked, $125,480 to the former San Jose Mercury News political reporter, Mary Anne Ostrom);
– $2.8 million on information technology;
– $1.7 million on office expenses (AT&T should be very thankful for the business);
– $1.2 million on polling and research;
– $1.9 million on Whitman’s travel, lodging, meetings and appearances;
– $953,726 on staff/spouse travel/lodging;
– $847,155 on fundraising events;
– $703,869 for legal and accounting services;
– $521,067 on phone banks;
– $462,030 on postage, deliver and messenger services;
– $230,000 to the California GOP;
– $120,910 on print ads (the true tell on Whitman’s feelings about the importance of newspapers).

Some of those categories, by the way, actually understate how much was spent because the coding on the finance report isn’t entirely consistent. For example, there’s another $1,755,610 to Tokoni – the online company run by Meg’s former retainers at eBay – that’s not included in the above mentioned $2.8 million.

And there are a few items that ought to set some eyebrows on fire. There’s the $1,000 payment on June 30 to Eric Hogue, the conservative commentator who presents himself as a journalist but who, in fact, is nothing more than an underpaid flack for Whitman’s campaign. (LA radio stars John and Ken of KFI-AM are pretty pissed off about that. “There’s nothing lower than a paid whore who runs a radio show supported by a political candidate,” said John.)

And for those of you who remember our report back in February when we noticed “a $20,000 disbursement to Green Faucet LLC, which is an investment firm owned by Chip Hanlon and also the parent company of his Red County web sites.” The payment was made about a week after Hanlon fired Aaron Park, the erstwhile, paid sock puppet for Meg rival Steve Poizner.

Hanlon told us the $20k was nothing more than payment for advertising on his web sites, but we found another Red County advertiser who was paying about $300 a month for the same size ad, suggesting the subsidy was something more than it was supposed to appear.

No shit. Since then, Meg has paid Hanlon’s Green Faucet $15,000 a month for a total now of $110,000! Which means everything you read on Red County and from Hanlon is nothing more than sock puppetry of the first water.

A cursory glance through our email in-basket finds at least 10 times when eMeg’s flacks have sent out missives to reporters telling them to be sure to catch a piece by Hanlon or Red County. As if it were some sort of commentary by a neutral party. NOT!

BTW, our friend Jon Fleischman over at FlashReport – the most closely read conservative aggregator and platform – has pulled in a mere $18,765 in ad revenue. Which, World Headquarters for High Finance, Arbitrage and Bake Sales reminded us in a memo, IS $18,765 MORE THAN MEG (OR JERRY) HAS PAID FOR CALBUZZ ADS!!!

Why, we wonder, has Meg paid $3.8 million Arena Communications for campaign literature when the company is based in Salt Lake City, Utah? What’s that $60,000 to Arthur Laffer and his company all about? How do you rack up a $222,000 phone bill? Why send $3.7 million for direct mail to Majority Strategies in Pointe Vedra, Florida?

We’re just asking.

Fun with Numbers: Has eMeg Got Her $$’s Worth?

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Three months before the November election, there appear to be three major beneficiaries of Meg Whitman’s over-the-top spending in her campaign for governor.

Unfortunately for the Republican nominee, none of them is her.

With new campaign finance statements scheduled to be filed this week, eMeg is expected to report somewhere north of $100 million in boodle disbursed to date, as the big winners in her extravagant spree are:

1-The vast legions of consultants, strategists, pollsters, flacks, purse carriers and other geniuses who have raked in tens of millions in fees, commissions, salaries and investments, in the greatest political bonanza since Bill Clinton auctioned off one-night stands in the Lincoln Bedroom..

2-The TV stations of California, which have been on the receiving end of Whitman’s own special economic stimulus program for nearly a year now. How’s this for a stat: Dan Morain noted in his Sunday SacBee column that she’s run 25,727 broadcast and cable ads since the primary alone. That’s not to mention Google and other online ad venues, where it’s all but  impossible to miss  that ubiquitous picture of Young Meg looking oddly forlorn for someone with that much loot in her future.

3-Carlos Alvarez and Dale Ogden, the Peace and Freedom and Libertarian candidates for governor, respectively, who each soared into the low single digits in the most recent PPIC poll, as Whitman drooped to her lowest level of support among likely voters in 2010.

In an interview the other day, her Democratic rival Jerry Brown said that eMeg has “wasted most of her money on unwise and ‘lavish’ spending,” according to our old friend Jim Boren at the Fresno Bee.

That’s easy for Krusty to say, even though his own poll numbers haven’t exactly taken flight; given that he’s spent a total of about 12 cents, it’s hard to argue with his point, if you overlay Whitman’s spending with some of her trend lines in the PPIC survey.

1-Among likely voters back in January, eMeg was backed by 36%, to Brown’s 41%; after inundating the airwaves for six months with the equivalent of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick’s GDP, the bottom line is that she lost two points of support, and now trails Brown 34-37%.

2-Among independent voters, Whitman’s investment has netted little.  In January, she trailed Brown among the crucial group of decline-to-state voters, who hold the balance of power in a statewide race,  28-36%; two months later, she’d surged, largely on the strength of a 14-point swing among independents, who then favored her over Brown, 43-37%. But after dominating the airwaves in the months since, she again trails among independents, 28-30%, according to the PPIC survey released last week.

3-Among female voters, who should represent a big opportunity for Whitman, the first Republican woman ever nominated for governor, there’s a stubborn gender gap. In January, she trailed Brown, 30-44%, among women; today, after going to the purse for $2 million a week, week after week, she’s behind 28-40%.

By far, Whitman’s strongest showing came in PPIC’s poll in March – before she unleashed the bulk of her advertising in her successful primary race against Steve Poizner. At that point, she led Brown 44-39% overall and, as noted above, ran ahead among independents; among women, she was within the margin of error.

But after that, all that bashing Poizner on the airwaves through the primary (while getting bashed by him to the tune of about $20 million) yielded was a 10-point shift in Brown’s favor; she trailed the AG shortly before the June 8 election by 37-42%. Now, after six weeks of incessant attacks against Brown, her level of support has eroded by another three points, though she’s also knocked him down by five.

As a practical matter, the Whitman campaign has yet to give voters a strong, positive reason to be for her, or even told them much about her, except a) she used to be the CEO of eBay; b) she’s not Steve Poizner or Jerry Brown; c) she thinks jobs and schools are really important; d) she believes illegal immigration is a terrible thing, except when she doesn’t; e) did we mention she used to be the CEO of eBay?

The Field Poll shows a trend line in the Whitman-Brown head-to-head matchup that’s more favorable to eMeg than the PPIC survey, but it nevertheless also suggests that the more people hear about her, the less they like her.

Back in January – when her image was still a relatively clean slate for voters – less than half of those surveyed had an opinion of her, but among those who did, it was positive 25-20%. Today, more than 80 percent have an opinion about her, but it’s negative – 42% unfavorable and 40% favorable.

Calbuzzards ain’t exactly masters of the universe when it comes to matters of high finance, but for such a smart businesswoman, that $100 million out the door seems to us, all in all, like kind of a mediocre investment.

Of course, the funds spent by Brown’s labor pals  — especially California Working Families — may not have done much to boost Krusty’s favorables, but they seem to have helped prevent Meg from developing much of a favorable image among swing voters, either.

All this helps explain why Team Meg recently launched a new charm offensive, trying to cozy up to Latinos  (a strategy undercut by widespread reporting about her prevarication on the issue, not to mention her own conflicting statements to news outlets) and with a new, positive 60-second radio ad (which once again focuses almost exclusively on her eBay experience).

Obviously, with three months to go, and uncounted millions to spend, there’s plenty of time and resources for Team eMeg to make some adjustments that offer a more effective criteria for her candidacy than they have to date.

But the closer it gets to Labor Day, when Brown intends to start putting his own ads on the air, the more difficult it becomes for her to exploit her greatest asset, the unprecedented edge she enjoys in money and, by likely extension, in campaign mechanics and organization as well.

The big piece that’s still missing from eMeg’s big-spending campaign is a compelling positive message, along with the answers to two, lingering key questions:  Why, exactly, does she want to be elected governor so badly that she’s willing to spend $100 million+ to do it? And why, exactly, is that a good deal for voters?

Inquiring minds want to know.