Under fire from board members, Attorney General Jerry Brown and editorial writers, California Chamber of Commerce CEO Allan Zaremberg on Thursday decided to cut short the TV ad campaign attack he produced and financed with $1.3 million from the Chamber’s coffers.
With University of California President Mark Yudof raising a stink (but relative silence from CSU and community college chancellors Charlie Reed and Jack Scott)*, with at least four Chamber board members in open revolt, with the Sacramento Bee labeling Zaremberg’s ad campaign a “cannonball of dishonesty,” and with the Attorney General and his former businesswoman wife lighting up board members, Zaremberg beat a hasty retreat.
Aren’t you glad Calbuzz blew the whistle on all this?
We have no idea what Zaremberg thought he was doing when he got authorization from his board to do issue ads and then produced and bought TV time for an attack ad that blames Brown for Proposition 13, a $200 billion deficit, spiraling taxation and the decline of civilization as we know it. We don’t know because the chicken-livered Chamber CEO won’t even come to the phone when we call.
He did speak to the Chronicle and to Capitol Weekly, telling them: “We’re ready to move on to the next phase of our paid media campaign . . . We believe we’ve accomplished what we tried to accomplish with the first ad, which is bring attention to these important issues. We probably got a little more attention than we expected.”
What? “Accomplished what we tried to accomplish with the first ad?” You gotta be kidding?
“California is facing serious challenges, and the voters deserve honesty from candidates and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce,” Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer said. “This ad was misleading, the funding is a mystery and it should never have been aired. We’re pleased the ad is down, and we hope the Chamber will return to a more constructive role in public affairs.”
Calbuzz checked with ad traffic managers at stations in Sacramento and Los Angeles who said, indeed, orders have been received to replace “Enough Is Enough” — the attack ad — with an ad titled “Plan,” which they had not yet seen.
We also heard that while the Chamber board had only approved issue ads in general, Zaremberg’s executive committee approved the specific ad. But we were unable to reach the chair of that committee, Larree M. Renda, executive vice president, chief strategist and administrative officer of Safeway Inc. Wonder how happy Safeway is with Zaremberg, now?
Late Thursday, Tucker Bounds of the Meg Whitman campaign put out a statement alleging that Brown had “spent the last several days directly telephoning the top executives of companies who sit on the California Chamber of Commerce board to threaten both labor unrest from his allies and direct regulatory action from his office.”
Bounds offered no individual names and campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei could not either. But their pal and fellow Republican partisan Chip Hanlon, over at Red County, said Brown had threatened labor unrest and other investigations in conversations with executives from Safeway and the Bank of America.
If true, of course, this would represent a serious misuse of power by the Attorney General of California. But according to Brown’s spokesman Sterling Clifford, who said he was within earshot of all the calls the Browns made to Chamber board members, “It is frankly and flatly false. It’s a face-saving, desperate statement of a campaign whose allies attempted to circumvent campaign finance law and were uncovered.”
If we hear from some Chamber members that Brown was stupid enough to threaten them, we’ll be among the first to call for him to be held to account. In the meantime, here’s what’s bothering at us about all this: something’s fishy over at the Cal Chamber.
Why hide who the donors are who financed the ad? That’s what Zaremberg did by having the Chamber produce and place the ad instead of running the operation through the Chamber’s Political Action Committee, which would have to disclose the donors.
The Chamber can argue that’s because this was an “issue ad” — not a political ad — which may be legally true but practically specious. Even if it was legally an issue ad because it never called for viewers to vote for or against anyone, this was an attack ad — pure and simple.
Why was the ad — which decries job losses in California — produced at Interface Media Group in Washington, DC, and why was it placed by Mentzer Media of Townsend, MD? Who made the ad? Who financed it? Did anyone at the Chamber get a commission or a fee?
Can someone explain this transaction? Does the Chamber board want to know?
* Update, 3:40 p.m. The following is a joint statement from California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, and University of California President Mark Yudof:
While our campuses are forums for free and unfettered discussion of ideas, as leaders of California’s three public higher education systems we do not engage in partisan politics and we have some concerns about the advertisement recently released by the California Chamber of Commerce.
Though we serve on the Chamber’s 100-plus member board, we were not consulted about this advertisement and were not aware of it prior to it becoming public. We each have independently expressed our concerns to the Chamber, and it is our understanding that the ad has been pulled.
We value our inclusion on the Chamber board, which provides an opportunity to interact with business leaders on issues that are of vital importance to the future of California. This is a dialogue that has been of great benefit to higher education, the business community and the state as a whole. We hope Chamber leadership will understand and address our need not to be drawn into partisan politics through participation in the Chamber.