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Posts Tagged ‘Sterling Clifford’



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:

The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Perhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.

A candidate couldn’t say one thing one day – like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and another thing another day – like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They’d be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.

But in the California governor’s race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:

— The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it is barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.

— The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed  by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)

— It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they’re not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).

Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.

Exhibit A for the Death of Truth is Her Megness, eMeg Whitman herself.

Let’s be clear: Krusty the General (Gandalf) Brown and his Merry Pranksters in Oakland are guilty of their own special brand of spin. But it’s pretty much your normal, basic campaign (wink-wink) re-framing like you’d get from Gov. Schwarzmuscle, President Oybama or Golden Gate Feinstein.

Brown has failed to level with voters about how he’d deal with the state budget (we think he’d shift all the responsibility for services back to cities, counties school districts, with a local option to raise taxes, and get the locals off the state’s books), among most other issues. But his guy Sterling Clifford has a point when he argues that “Meg Whitman is trying to paper over her lies and deceptions with dollar bills.”

Indeed, when it comes to killing truth, eMeg is miles ahead in felony flip-floppery. The pro-Brown California Working Families tried to drive that point home last week with the release of an online ad titled “Lies.” detailing just a few recent examples of Megspeak:

— She was for double furloughs for state employees before she was against furloughs altogether.

— She was for a path to citizenship before she knew what it meant, and then she was vehemently against it, before she declared herself aligned with Brown, who’s for it.

— She was for sending state agents into work places to hunt down and arrest illegal immigrant workers until she decided she was against that (probably illegal) idea.

— She was against extending benefits to children of illegal immigrants (like admission to state universities and colleges) before she was . . . wait, maybe she’s still against that, but OK with letting illegal immigrant offspring get treated at a hospital.

— In the primary she said, “We have to prosecute illegal aliens and criminal illegal aliens in all of our cities in every part of California.” Now she says, “What has bothered Latinos for too long is the harsh rhetoric around the immigration debate. Too often, the debate has been tinged with hurtful words signaling intolerance or worse to many Latinos.”

If a candidate changes his or her position from A to B, he or she can be accused of flip-flopping (or changing his or her mind). What makes the Whitman campaign’s changes so special is that her paid mouthpieces are out there insisting that eMeg has NOT changed her position one iota. She’s entirely consistent and not a rank opportunist, they argue.

Calbuzz has been harping on this lack of truthiness by the Whitman camp for some time, and we’ve catalogued a partial list of prevarications. But where are the other non-partisan voices willing to hold Meg’s feet to the fire? Why isn’t every editorial page and columnist in the state thundering with indignation, instead of equating Brown’s admittedly infuriating avoidance of staking clear positions on policy with Whitman’s corporate style, black-is-white daily deceits and deceptions?

The beyond standard quantum limit nature of Whitman’s spending so far has enabled her, like no California candidate in history, to take advantage of Calbuzzer Mark Twain’s timeless dictum: “A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants.”

So far, eMeg has circled the globe several times, while the too-often-timid California media are still struggling in the dark to find their trousers.

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.)

New Polls: Poizner Inching Up, Tom Beating Carly

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

It’s not much to bank on, but Steve “The Commish” Poizner appears to have knocked eMeg Whitman down below 50% of the vote in the race for the Republican nomination for governor, according to a new public poll.

Following surveys in March from the Field Poll and the Public Policy Institute of California, both of which showed Whitman with better than 60% of the vote, a public poll by Capitol Weekly – this time with Republican and Democratic pollsters collaborating – finds eMeg leading The Commish 47-to-19%.

In addition, the Capitol Weekly survey found Tom Campbell solidly leading the GOP race for U.S. Senate, with 31% of the vote, ahead of Hurricane Carly Fiorina at 17% and Chuck DeVore, R-Stonehenge, at 14%, by far the strongest showing to date by the Orange County legislator.

“The good news for Jerry (Brown) is that Meg’s going to have to sweat this out,” said Ben Tulchin, the Democratic consultant on the poll. “In the Senate race. Fiorina is going to have to start bashing Campbell – she’s running out of time.”

There’s also a Rasmussen Poll – which Calbuzz dislikes because they do robo-calling and don’t disclose their methods – that shows Democrat Crusty the General Brown running ahead of eMeg in a November contest. More intriguing was Rasmussen’s finding that seven in 10 voters like Brown’s idea for three-way pre-primary debates with Whitman and Poizner.

Now, those numbers in the GOP governor’s race might not be much to brag on. But that didn’t stop Team Poizner Communications Director Jarrod Agen:

“Meg Whitman’s candidacy was always like one of those French soufflés one of her private chefs would cook up on her private jet — full of expensive air and destined to deflate.  All of Meg’s Goldman Sachs riches can’t convince California Republicans that we need a Barbara Boxer supporter as our nominee.  The numbers are moving as we expected, which means in this year’s general election Republicans will finally get a chance to vote for a Republican for Governor.”

The Whitman people – claiming that their internal polling has the race 55-24% for eMeg — smell desperation wafting out of the Poizner camp.

“In February, Steve Poizner had a favorable rating of only 15% and an unfavorable rating of 10%. Now, Steve Poizner’s favorable to unfavorable rating is 26% to 30%. For every one Republican voter that became positive to Steve Poizner two Republicans became negative,” wrote Whitman pollster John McLaughlin in a survey analysis.

“The fact of the matter is that Republican primary voters personally like Meg Whitman and when they get to know Poizner, they just dislike him. For that reason alone winning the Republican primary for Steve Poizner is hopeless and pointless,” McLaughlin said.

Conservative pollster Adam Probolsky surveyed 751  registered voters with a past history of voting April 10-13. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 3.7%. Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin of San Francisco consulted on the survey, ensuring a partisan balance.

While the survey – based on a projected June primary electorate — did not include November match-ups, the pollsters did ask this question:

“Thinking about the economy and jobs, which candidate for Governor do you think would do the best job?”  Interestingly, Brown – a career politician — pulled 32.5%, compared to 30.5% for Whitman and 9.2% for Poizner – both of them Silicon Valley business veterans.

Predictably, 53% of the Democrats gave Brown the edge on the economy and jobs, compared to 14% for Whitman and 4% for Poizner. Among Republicans it was 54% for Whitman, 18% of Poizner and 7% for Brown.

But among independents and others it was 29% for Brown, 25% for Whitman and 6% for Poizner suggesting that — for whatever reason — when party is not a factor, voters appear to trust Brown more than the two business executives on the economy and jobs. At least for now.

Said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford, with a touch of glee:  “There’s only one candidate in the race who’s actually guided the state through a recessionary period and who, in eight years, helped create 1.9 million jobs.”