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Final Thoughts on IGS 2010 Gov Race Conference

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the end, the weekend conference on California’s just-concluded campaign for governor looked a lot like the race itself: Meg Whitman refused to talk to an audience not of her choosing, got trashed for it and ended up the biggest loser for her selfish and self-absorbed behavior.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies confab, held every four years, drew its largest crowd ever, an eclectic collection of media and political hacks, earnest students and academic chrome domes, professional pollsters and political wannabes, all drawn by the opportunity to hear, first-hand from the operatives who ran the campaigns, the inside story of how the deal went down.

Beyond its sheer entertainment value for an audience of obsessed political junkies, the conference in the past also served the more serious purpose of establishing a permanent record of the process by which Californians chose their chief executive, an important resource for scholars, authors and journalists. But the 2011 version was unfortunately flawed by two big shortcomings:

First, not a single member of the mighty Legions of eMeg had the courage, concern for history, not to mention common courtesy, to show his or her face; despite heroic efforts to represent the Republican perspective by top-rank GOP pols who didn’t work on the campaign (about whom more later) this left a huge hole in the record, given that Herself and Her Money, in many ways, became the story of the campaign.

Second, there was way too much spin and way too little candor by too many of those who did participate – an unfortunate departure from past years, which will leave a distorted and incomplete record of what was one of the most important campaigns in recent decades: “It just wasn’t the real story of the campaign,” one prominent political scientist complained at a post-conference reception. (Suggested reading for future scholars: this and this.)

That said, there still was value in the event, even if it was often to be found in the bar of the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and around the tables of nearby Berkeley restaurants, where war stories and unvarnished opinions were more frequently to be found. Some observations:

Most Valuable Player – The MVP of the conference was Jim Bognet, manager of Steve Poizner’s losing GOP primary effort. Funny, smart and honest, Bognet offered a sense of what it was like day-after-day to go up against a rival funded by $180 million (Meg’s spending “created its own center of gravity”) and displayed how personal the battle got between the Republicans (“never was so much spent on so many for so little”). He also provided – in the form of advice to students in the room thinking about going into politics — the best single riff of the weekend, defining the ethical rot at the center of Team Whitman that led to the most expensive disaster in the history of American politics:

When you’re getting paid a lot of money – and there were many consultants in this race that got paid a lot of money – it gives you an incentive not to speak truth to power. It gives you an incentive not to tell them what they don’t want to hear as candidates. You are more valuable as a campaign staffer and as a human being if you’re willing to say to the person who is paying your paycheck, “You are wrong. You need to talk to the press. You need to go out and answer these questions. You need to answer for why you switched your position.” It is a conflict of interest because the same person that is paying you, you have to give hard advice and talk about things, personal things that are not comfortable to talk about. So I would say, you have to fight against that continuously in order to add value to your candidate.

Least Valuable Player – The LVP of the conference was Peter Ragone, representing Gavin Newsom’s short and stunted primary bid for governor. Ragone is a nice guy and a competent operative, but his endless, obviously phony spin on behalf of the new Lite Governor had the audience groaning and looking for barf bags.

Newsom, it seems, is a politician of uncommon moral courage, motivated by only two idealistic factors – his unstinting and unselfish determination to do what is right and true and good for all the rest of us (after trashing the office of lieutenant governor, he changed his mind and ran because “he decided this was where he could the most good”) and the high moral courage that drives him to put his family above all else (no mention of him boinking the wife of his chief of staff in the mayor’s office). Self-interest never figures into it, Ragone would have us believe. Enough to make a hog puke. No matter what new UC Regent Newsom wanted, IGS should have invited Garry South and Nick Clemons, his actual gubernatorial campaign directors.

The missing characters –  The transcript of the proceedings will be turned into a book which purportedly will serve as the final word on the governor’s race. Puh-leeze. Consider this: the three most important behind-the-scenes players in the race – Brown’s wife Anne Gust, Whitman major domo Henry Gomez and top strategist Mike Murphy – didn’t figure in any of the discussions and, unless we missed it during a trip to the head or the cookie table, their names were never even mentioned. That’s like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.

Kudos to the stand-ins. While eMeg’s minions cowered in fear far away from Berkeley, former state chairmen Duf Sundheim and Bob Naylor, along with veteran strategist Jim Brulte, did a terrific job of describing the GOP perspective, their limited contacts with the candidate and her turf-conscious consultants, and how the establishment watched in horror as Whitman melted down.

“As Republicans, we were really concerned as the primary went on because since they were so close on the issues, it was really going to come down to a very nasty, personal fight,” Sundheim said. Said Naylor: “When the dust settled in the primary, the Whitman campaign was over.” And Brulte, who with his commentary reaffirmed his position as the sharpest Republican mind in the state, observed that except for Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger – celebrities who transcended politics – California voters have always wanted  an experienced hand as governor. By spending so much money on television without a break, Whitman undercut her own ability to be the next best thing, he argued. “By Labor Day, Jerry Brown, who was governor when I was in high school, was the fresh new face.”

Message trumps money – Since we’re kvetching about others for a lack of self-criticism, Calbuzz should acknowledge that our own coverage may have suffered from putting too much focus on the extraordinary spectacle of Meg’s crazed spending, which at times led us to the misassumption that she could make up for her lack of a clear and consistent winning message by throwing money at the problem.

“I never understood it,” said Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman. “Every time you turned on the TV, there were four or five tracks of (Whitman) ads that were completely different. They were switching ads all the time. You had no idea what their strategy was and never had anyone explain it to me.”  The Whitman campaign never had a compelling message, agreed consultant Rick Claussen: “Tactics is just a way to talk to voters.” You can spend all you want reaching out to voters, but if you don’t have something worth listening to, it’s a huge waste of money.

Brown was both lucky and good – In the final session of the conference, Brulte put his partisan perspective aside and offered his bottom line: Brown “ran a picture perfect campaign,” he said, a strategy built on keeping its focus on fundraising, using the office of Attorney General to keep him in the news and steering their own course no matter how much the winds emanating from Camp Whitman tried to blow them off course.

In Jim Moore, Brown had the best pollster in the race, the best ad man in Joe Trippi and the most disciplined manager in Glazer; their game plan to hold their fire until Labor Day, while many top Democrats and the political peanut gallery were hollering for them to answer eMeg’s summer assault, made all the difference. But Brown’s strategists also admitted that they benefited from missteps by eMeg. Said Glazer:

The one worry that I had when we went through that (2009) fall period into the new year was that Meg Whitman was going to use her resources to use Jerry Brown as the foil to be a stronger Republican . . . I thought that she would — even before the new year struck — that she would start to use Jerry Brown and start to raise our negatives by running against us as the presumptive Republican nominee. And I expected that all the way through until the primary day. I was very surprised that that actually never happened.

Once the primary was over, Trippi’s greatest fear was that Whitman would “go dark” over the summer, giving voters a respite from her 24/7 invasion of their living rooms and allowing her to re-emerge as a fresh face in the fall. Instead she essentially turned herself into the incumbent in a year when voters wanted change.

As Bognet had put it earlier: “She built herself a $180 million brand. Unfortunately, by the time the general came around her brand was, ‘She’s the woman with the money who won’t get off my TV.’”

Panelists also agreed that Whitman made a huge error by trying to portray Brown as a traditional tax and spend liberal, which simply misstates his record. As Republican Naylor, who served in the Assembly during Brown’s first turn as governor, put it: “Tax and spend doesn’t stick with Jerry Brown.”

Tone matters – Trippi correctly observed that the relentlessly snarky tone of Whitman’s relentless attack ads didn’t resonate with voters – “failure has followed him everywhere” he intoned — because they have a much more complex and long-running, if not always fond, relationship with him. Better for the Whitman people, Trippi said, to have been respectful to Brown by crafting a  more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger “gold watch” message, saying that he had performed valuable service to the state but adding that it was simply time for him to go, and to elect a “governor for the 21st century.”

Trying to avoid the press was a huge blunder — Speaker after speaker pointed to Whitman’s strategy of stiffing the media as a costly error for several reasons: it sent a message to voters that she thought she was too good to go through the usual hoops candidates for high office have always faced; it established a narrative that Whitman was secretive, and must have something to hide; it was a clear affront to the working press of the state, and their frustration showed up in the stories. As Poizner’s Jarrod Agen put it: “It never works to avoid the press.”

Bill Lockyer is the Diogenes of state politics — California’s treasurer was the keynote speaker of the conference and he turned in a boffo performance that provided a full-on and utterly frank look at the state of the state’s finances. Ask Lockyer what time it is and he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch, so some of his discourse on the niceties of the municipal bond market were a bit windy, but he’s smart, funny and seen it all. We’ll be running the text of his speech later this week.

Worst advice – The model for a California GOP comeback is Chris Christie in New Jersey, said Republican Tony Quinn. Sustained attacks on public employee unions and bloated government are the key to victory, he said. When Calbuzz rose to note that Whitman had done exactly that, he replied that she hadn’t done it very well.

Immigration sunk Whitman – Even before Meg’s Nicky Diaz housekeeper scandal, the immigration issue was a huge problem for Whitman. As Glazer explained, she had many liabilities on the issue even without Nicky – from shifting positions on a path to citizenship to her opposition to the Dream Act. Poizner’s hardline position in the primary forced her to move far right, which made her efforts to get back to the center in the general look pathetically calculated. When the Nicky story erupted, it merely personalized the hypocrisy and brazen opportunism of her political stances.

As Poizner’s Agen explained:

If we’d gotten into the general, it would have been a policy debate between Steve and Governor Brown on the policy issue of immigration. Jerry Brown would have had one stance on immigration, Steve would have had the other. But it would have been a policy discussion on immigration . . . What ended up happening, though, was immigration turned into a character issue and that is what ultimately hurts the Republican Party hugely is if immigration is a character issue. If it stays a policy issue, people are going to disagree with it and we felt that if you get to the general election, we’ll have it out, we’ll have that debate with Jerry on immigration, we’ll see how people, where people stand.

Best line – The strategists were asked at one point to name one thing they would have done that they didn’t do. “Telephone operational training,” said Glazer, a big laugh reference to Brown’s failure to hang up the phone when leaving a message with a law enforcement union, which led to the flap over someone in Brown headquarters (hello, Anne) referring to eMeg as a political “whore.”

Best fights – Field Pollster Mark Dicamillo ripped off the face of robopollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA (in the nicest possible way), who responded with a furious defense of his methodology, a screed that included some whacks at Calbuzz. The Cage Match of the pollsters was only matched for excitement when Democratic operative Bob Mulholland and Tony Quinn got into a finger-pointing duel about the rules and political significance of the new “top two” primary system. Talk about don’t-invite-ems.

The new Whig party — A number of speakers at the conference strongly argued that the California Republican party is essentially dead. Brulte for one said there was no way Whitman could have won the race because of the structural and demographic political landscape of the state, while Sundheim said “Republicans, as a brand, are dead.” Speaker after speaker noted how the Republican hostility to Latinos and other minorities, coupled with tired messaging that has nothing for younger voters, has made them an isolated and marginal party of old white people. Most seemed to have read and adopted the Calbuzz Memo to CA GOP: Time to Do Something Different.

Speaking of Whigs — Sacramento consultant Ray McNally, proving that there’s not much new in American politics, read from an 1840 confidential memo written by Abraham Lincoln that laid out a complete organizing strategy for the “overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country,” which included everything from polling and GOTV to voter contact and fundraising. Example: “3) It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.” You can read it here.

The two minds of the voters – Political scientist Kim Nalder from Sac State honed in on the most fundamental factor driving state politics today: the disconnect that voters feel between demanding high levels of service and their determination not to pay taxes. Lockyer underscored a Calbuzz report that voters think 48% of the money the state spends is wasted –  a high hurdle for Brown to overcome if he is to sell his cuts-and-taxes budget plan to fix the state’s $28 billion budget shortfall.

Deep thoughts: Thad Kousser of UC San Diego made some points that cut against the notion that California is forever blue (an argument that effectively lets the Armies of eMeg off the hook). A panel of political scientists agreed that “campaign effects” are marginal – but that marginal effects matter big time in close races, so the Whitman-Brown race could have been close – “Nothing was inevitable in this campaign.” And a note to future mega-spending candidates: “Campaigns can’t tell voters what to think, but they can tell them what to think about.”

Nice work — There were too many journalists from the LA Times on the program (although we were wrong to say two of the three didn’t cover the governor’s race: only one did not) and not enough from other major papers or news agencies. But the four who participated — Mark Barabak, Cathy Decker and Anthony York of the Times, and Timm Herdt of the Ventura County Star — did a fine job of moving the conversation along.

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.

Meg vs Meg on Those Goldman Sachs Stock Deals

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In her autobiography, “The Power of Many,” Meg Whitman discusses the charges against her for “spinning” initial public offerings that Goldman Sachs made available for her personal portfolio when she was CEO of eBay. It’s in a chapter titled “Results matter. Be accountable.”

Comparing what she wrote about her entanglement with Goldman Sachs  and what she told the Associated Press on Tuesday, however, we wonder what exactly eMeg means – if anything — by accountability.

Since this has become a big deal both nationally and in the California governor’s race, we’re reprinting some extended quotations from Whitman’s account of the affair, to see how they stack up against her more recent statements. We pick up her narrative on Page 148 (emphasis, ours):

After we [eBay] went public and Griff [her husband] and I needed professional help handling our investment portfolio, we decided to invest some of our personal funds with a completely separate group at Goldman Sachs, the Private Wealth Management group. As a wealth management client, I was indeed given access to IPO shares of other companies, which my private broker bought and sold for my account . . . However, the implication that there was a connection between eBay using Goldman Sachs as its banker on an ongoing basis and any benefit to my personal account investments was totally false;

I had never let my personal financial benefit influence my input on eBay’s banking choices. There was nothing illegal about IPO transactions my wealth manager made on my behalf. Such investment opportunities were common at the time, and I had never seen anyone in government, the media, or anywhere else raise the idea that this practice was a conflict of interest. . . .

When I learned I was on a list under scrutiny, I was surprised. The IPO investments made by Goldman Sachs on my behalf were a very small fraction of my personal investment portfolio. Given that I was a major individual eBay shareholder, I had far more to gain by working to make sure eBay used the most competent investment banking we could find. Anything that benefited eBay shareholders benefited me. . . .

Despite the inflammatory language of the investigation, these transactions were legal. No one ever suggested that they were not. . . . My board stood behind me and urged me to fight these [law]suits because they knew I had done nothing wrong and was deeply upset at the assault on my personal reputation and aghast at having eBay dragged into these stories about corporate greed. . . .

There was no conflict of interest, but when I look back I can see why the [congressional] committee pounced on the appearance of one. As I said earlier, [where she described how Goldman CEO Hank Paulson ran board meetings] I was not a good fit for the Goldman board which was the primary reason I resigned from it in December 2002.

In an interview Tuesday with the AP, Whitman repeated her statement that she resigned from the Goldman Sachs board of directors because it “wasn’t a good fit.”

“There was no link between accepting these IPO shares and funneling business to Goldman,” she insisted.

“The lesson learned about it is you have to be extra vigilant about seeing any actual or perceived conflict of interest. I missed the signposts here,” she said. “As I look back on it, would I do it again? No.”

There you have it: eMeg says she would not do the same thing over again — not because it was so unethical that it was later made illegal — but because she would want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. In other words, she seems to be saying, “spinning” may have been outlawed later, but “It was legal when I did it, so what’s the problem?”

The only reason she acknowledges settling the lawsuit against her and other eBay board members for $3 million – including her share of $1.78 million – appears, at least in her book, to have been  because it was an annoyance:

The lawsuit remained a distraction and there was so much to do to run eBay and keep it growing that eventually I huddled with our lawyers and with Pierre [Omidyar] and Jeff [Skoll], who were also named in the suits, and we three decided to personally settle the suit with our own funds.

As Lance Williams noted, Whitman in the AP interview “didn’t address her service on Goldman’s compensation committee, where in two annual pay cycles she signed off on $79 million in bonuses for five top Goldman executives, including then-vice chairman Lloyd Blankfein, now the CEO.” (SEE BELOW)

In her book, Whitman said she put the story of Goldman Sachs in the chapter about accountability because, “.  . . the fact is, there was the appearance of a conflict and it bloodied our noses – mine in particular. . . . Those of us fortunate to hold any kind of leadership position in business must reject any appearance of a conflict even when we know that one does not exist . . . we have to be willing to be held to a higher standard.”

Um, how about just the standard we demand of our children, friends and mates: admit that you did something wrong and apologize. Whitman’s responses don’t even come close.

As Sterling Clifford, spokesman for Attorney General Jerry Brown put it, “Does she regret it because it was wrong or because it’s become an issue in her race for governor?”

Said Jarrod Agen, communications director for Whitman’s Republican rival, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner: “I’m sure there are several convicts that regret their crimes, but it doesn’t make them any less guilty.”

It’s worth noting that it was AP’s Juliet Williams who actually used the word “regret.” If Whitman said it, there was no quote to that effect. And let’s be clear what it was that got settled.

“In effect, the plaintiff shareholders allege that Goldman Sachs bribed certain eBay insiders, using the currency of highly profitable investment opportunities,”  wrote Delaware Judge William Chandler, who presided over the case

As Lance Williams reported, the executives “were able to flip these investments into instant profit,” the judge also wrote. “Whitman sold these equities in the open market and reaped millions of dollars in profit.”

But Whitman’s take on the whole affair is quite different. As she said in her book: her board knew she had done nothing wrong. That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

This correction was later posted on Lance Williams story: (UPDATE: Whitman served on Goldman’s compensation committee, where in two annual pay cycles she signed off on $79 million in bonuses for five top Goldman executives, including then-vice chairman Lloyd Blankfein, now the CEO. The bonuses were based on competitive industry norms and the firm’s performance, the AP quoted her as saying.)

Shocker: Jerry Wants 3-Way With Meg and Steve

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

In challenging Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner to an unprecedented series of pre-primary, three-way debates Brown signaled a willingness to plunge into the general election for governor even before the candidates have been chosen – as long as it’s on somebody else’s dime.

“Come out from behind those glittering poppy fields, those beautiful car crashes on top of the mountain,” he told the delegates at the California Democratic Party state convention, referring to TV ads from Republican wannabes Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner. “This is going to be mano a mano, one candidate against the other. Let’s hear the different ideas.”

The partisan crowd at the Democratic state convention, many of whom have waited for months for Brown to aggressively engage in the campaign, reacted with enthusiasm. Which was job No. 1 for the weekend for the 72-year-old attorney general and presumptive party nominee.

The unexpected debate gambit – coming after advisers suggested for days that Brown would refrain from aiming fire at Whitman and Poizner – was a shrewd tactical win-win for crafty Crusty the General, for at least three reasons:

1- The debate challenge, which fired up delegates, showed nervous Democrats that Brown is no drooling Jerryiatric and will stop turning the other cheek as Republicans bash him with abandon.

Click to Gluck

2- It is an attempt to help Poizner, who’s been attacking eMeg on the airwaves for several weeks, by making her look like a chicken and fueling the narrative that she’s hiding and trying to buy the election.

3- With no heavy lifting, Brown won the news cycle and scored an ongoing talking point – What do you mean I’m not campaigning? She’s the one who’s ducking me.

“We cannot delay debating solutions. The need is immediate and millions and millions of dollars in an orgy of spending for TV commercials is not a substitute for an honest and open discussion,” Brown said.

Brown’s change of heart apparently came after he saw new private polling that reportedly shows Poizner closing the gaping margin Whitman has enjoyed in the GOP primary. He also apparently was swayed to go on the offense after seeing a Republican Governor’s Association ad – very similar to the California Chamber of Commerce “issues” ad that was pulled because it was so purely anti-Brown.

Asked at press conference after his speech what he would do if only one of the Republicans accepted the challenge, Brown said that would not do. Calbuzz asked if he really thinks they both will accept.

“I wouldn’t have made the challenge if I didn’t take into account the possibility they might accept it,” he said, drawing a laugh from reporters.

On cue, Poizner’s camp immediately accepted the invitation. Communications director Jarrod Agen:

“Steve Poizner is happy to debate his plan for California against lying corporate CEO Meg Whitman and special interest career politician Jerry Brown. We match up nicely against those two and are willing to debate anywhere, anytime. The voters of California deserve to see these candidates discuss solutions for California and answer difficult questions in an unscripted, unedited setting.”

And not surprisingly, for a campaign that is in the lead, Whitman’s chief consultant Mike Murphy, was considerably less interested:

“It a cynical ploy to elevate Poizner. Jacques must have thought up that one,” he said, referring to Jacques Barzaghi, Brown’s former inscrutable aide de camp.”Jerry should debate this own primary opponents and his own record since he’s been on every side of every issue.

Hearing that Whitman demurred, Poizner’s Agen said, “The Republican nominee will have to debate Jerry Brown. If Meg Whitman is afraid to debate him, then she should not be the Republican nominee.”

Brown, too, responded to the Whitman campaign’s rejection of the call for three-way debates:

Private corporations sometimes hide behind slick advertising campaigns, but it’s wrong for a serious political candidate to do the same.  I urge Meg Whitman to reconsider.  Surely, if she believes she is good enough to be governor of California she must also consider herself competent enough to appear with her opponents.  A candidate for public office should not act like a used car salesperson who relies on misleading TV ads.  Public service is a higher calling, one that demands integrity, openness and honesty.  I encourage Meg Whitman to join with Steve Poizner and me in three joint appearances.

eMeg’s Video Feeds Put TV Stations on the Spot

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

When we saw Mike Sugarman’s piece on KPIX-TV about Meg Whitman’s new media tactic — shooting video of campaign events, uplinking to a communications satellite and making the video available to TV stations throughout the state — we thought that was a pretty clever use of her vast resources.

A video news release (VNR) is really just the electronic version of a good old-fashioned press release. And if a campaign — or an officeholder — can afford it, why not distribute video? It’s really up to the TV stations to decide whether to use spoon-fed, edited material from a candidate or official, just like newspapers have to decide whether to publish press releases.

But then eMeg’s GOP opponent Steve Poizner unleashed spokesman Jarrod Agen to charge:

Meg Whitman crossed another line in this race by spending her millions to spread her campaign propaganda in tailored sound bites to news stations. This latest action from Meg Whitman of sending ‘Video News Releases’ to media outlets across the state is not only further proof that she cannot handle an unscripted environment, but it breaches the ethics of journalism. First it was staged town halls, now Meg Whitman is trying to buy positive coverage.

Oh puh-leeze.

Democrat Jerry Brown’s complaint was no more sensible, although it was at least more succinct:  “Meg Whitman isn’t just happy buying commercial breaks, now she’s trying to buy the newscasts, too.”

Yo! Crusty! You want some cheese with that whine?

Here’s the deal: The Whitman campaign is rolling in dough. They can afford to send a videographer on the road with their candidate. They can afford to rent a satellite truck and sat time and make B roll available to TV stations at the same time they’re offering one-on-one satellite interviews with those stations. What’s the problem?

Randy Shandobil of KTVU, the best TV reporter in the Bay Area, said he expects his station will likely ignore eMeg’s video feeds, unless there’s some extraordinary reason to use the footage and then it would be labeled as having been provided by the campaign.

Our old friend Dan Rosenheim, news director at KPIX-TV, pretty much endorsed that outlook. And he agreed with Calbuzz that there’s nothing unusual about candidates using every trick in the book to get coverage.

“The burden in this case is on the news organizations,” said Rosenheim.

The problem is this: small stations around the state with few resources will be sorely tempted to put up eMeg’s video as if it were their own and that’s just unethical. But as Rosenheim notes, that’s a challenge for the news outlets — not publicity-seeking candidates.

This is not the same thing, by the way, as producing and sending out phony news stories with actors pretending to be TV reporters and anchors — as Gov. Schwarzmuscle and former President Shrub tried. This is just packaged video footage.

In the meantime, Steve and Jerry would be advised to save their complaints for when eMeg really does go over the line.

Hey, a little bit of mold never hurt anybody: At a time when MSM journalists increasingly spend their days tweeting, Facebooking, You Tubing and otherwise digitally passing virtual time, it’s good to see somebody’s still doing some old fashioned reporting.

So we’re delighted to award a Calbuzz Gold Medal for Resourceful Reporting and Dumpster Diving to Alicia Lewis and Ashli Briggs, the two CSU Stanislaus students who uncovered the secret documents outlining Sarah Palin’s sweet deal to speak on campus in June.

It’s surely coincidental, of course, that the dynamic duo who pulled this stuff literally out of the trash are both political science majors, although any campaign looking for a couple of hungry young oppo research types could clearly do a lot worse.

The pair’s disclosures about the high-end perks Palin demands in exchange for showing up and blathering for an hour or so have made national news, despite the sad fact that they’ve had to share their 15 minutes with Leland Yee, the media windbag state senator from San Francisco.

A word of caution going forward for Lewis and Briggs (whom the university is now absurdly trying to demonize): this line of work can be dangerous. In the future, be sure to heed these dumpster diving best practices guidelines from All Things Frugal.

Equipment

If you are going in the evening, you are going to need something to light up the dumpster. Some people carry a small flashlight. They attach a cord to it, and then hold it in their teeth to keep their hands free. Others wear a headlamp! You can find them at reasonable prices in the bike area of discount stores.

You need something to pull the stuff to you- some kind of pole with a hook at the end. A hoe works. You can also buy long poles that will pick up a quarter in the corner of an empty dumpster.

A stepping stool will help you reach over the top.
Bags- Trash Bags, Plastic Bags, etc., and duct tape in case your bag splits open.
Wet wipes to clean up with, and anti-bacterial lotion for afterwards.

A basic first aid kit, in case you hurt yourself.

– Never climb into a Dumpster with Medical and Hazardous Waste. Anyone can throw out a needle that could jab you. Wear protective clothing.
– Lids that suddenly slam shut when windy.
– Sharp Objects.
– Icky stuff- like dead animals.
– Make sure that there are no ordinances that make this activity illegal in your area.