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.”
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.”