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Posts Tagged ‘Tokoni’



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.

Consultants Hit the Megpot; Chris Parodies Himself

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

When you’re digging through a spending report that shows how $46 million was spent – as in the case of eMeg Whitman’s blockbusting finance tome – you have to be careful not to be fooled by the formal categories in the FPPC form.

By that measure, Whitman has spent $7.3 million on political consultants, including a little more than $2 million in 2010 alone. But that’s not half the story: If you total up what various consultants – political, communication, internet, fund-raising, etc. – have sucked out of the Whitman campaign, it’s a staggering $37.7 million, including $24.7 million since the first of the year.

Now granted, some big piece of that was paid to consultants like Smart Media Group, of Alexandria, Va., to purchase radio and TV air time. But even if 85% of the $20.4 million paid to Smart Media went to buy radio and TV time, various consultants still have already bilked Whitman for at least $20 million. And that doesn’t even count campaign staff salaries of about $2.7 million.

One of the interests that hit the Megpot Calbuzz told you about back in February: Tokoni — the online networking firm founded by her former eBay supplicants Alex Kazim, Mary Lou Song and Rajiv Dutta, and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Their haul in Megabucks is now up to a staggering $3.6 million.

According to her GOP rival Steve Poizner, Meg’s $27,241,338.78 spent in 2010 breaks down to $358,438.67 per day; $14,934.94 per hour; $248.92 per minute, and $4.15 per second. Calbuzz is not sure how pointing this out helps Poizner in the Republican primary, but we’re grateful for the math.

Our Division of Green Eye Shades and #2 Pencils calculates that if you take what Whitman has spent on private aircraft ($371,000), bookkeeping ($466,000) and catering ($113,000), it’s more than Jerry Brown has spent altogether ($716,000). The most catering cash –$67,800 – appears to have gone to Christopher’s Catering for a bunch of events, but our favorite is last May’s $10,962.69 paid to Wolfgang Puck for one event.

Whitman spent $903,000 on polling and research — including $231,000 this year alone, compared to $144,000 Brown has spent since the start of the year.

Mike Murphy, the swashbuckling consultant who was barely in the last report, has now drawn about $496,000 in fees and expenses since his Bonaparte Films signed on back in November. At $90,000 a month, it won’t be long before he eclipses Henry Gomez, eMeg’s longtime sidekick, who’s pulled down about $606,000 since joining the game

Foot in Tweety Disease: As Beltway Wise Men compile lists of winners and losers in the health care reform battle,  one of the biggest “L’s” of all should be inscribed next to the name Chris Matthews.

Even for the routinely insufferable, unbearably repulsive and arrogantly logorrheic Tweety Bird host of “Hard Ball,” the retroactive spectacle of how much of a fool he made of himself on his January 22 show is breathtaking.

As David Waldman shows in a truly superb takedown at Daily Kos,  Matthews couldn’t bother to give his tiny pea brain two seconds to catch up with his endlessly flapping gums to pay attention when he was being handed a legitimate scoop.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., was Matthews’ “guest,” and kept trying to explain that within the Democratic caucus, there were serious discussions underway about having the House approve the Senate-passed health care bill without need of a conference committee, and then send back to the Senate any changes it made for a reconciliation vote, which would take only 51 votes, not a filibuster-busting 60.

This is, of course, precisely the process that the Democrats in the end decided to use. Mr. Motormouth Insider, of course, knew better:

MATTHEWS:and you know you can’t do it. You’re pandering to the netroots right now. I know what you’re doing!

GRAYSON: You are wrong! This is something we talk about with the leadership in our caucus meetings every week!…

M: When will they do this, because I want to write write this down. When are they gonna do something that has never been done before? Create a program through this reconciliation process?

G: You know, they’ve used reconciliation time and time again. You’re saying create a program, as if that’s something dramatically different from everything else the Senate does. It’s not.

M: OK, let me tell you, the purpose of reconciliation is to take measures — cutting taxes, er, raising taxes or cutting spending — to reconcile actual government spending and tax policy with previous legislation that you’ve passed. You haven’t passed a bill to create a health care plan.

G: When did you become the Senate parliamentarian? Did I miss that?

M: Well, I worked over there for many, many years, and I worked for the Speaker for six years, I worked 15 years up there…

G: Well, I’m speaking to the Speaker and the leadership this year…

M: ...and I know what I’m talking about! You ask anybody… you ask anybody in the Senate right now… Go call the Senate legislative counsel’s office and ask them if you can do this. Go ask the parliamentarians if you can do this. You haven’t bothered to do that.

G: No, the leadership…

M: [Laughs.]

Last laugh to Grayson. No word yet on when he’ll be invited back to “Hardball” so Matthews can apologize.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Hard to know who to root for in this fight.

High on the Hog: A Look Inside eMeg’s $pending

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The amounts of expenditures officially categorized in Meg Whitman’s 1,041-page, $29.4 million campaign finance report mask the staggering sums she has actually paid to political and business consultants and cronies, a Calbuzz analysis of her filing shows.

The formal FPPC category for “campaign consultants” totals $5.25 million on Whitman’s electronic statement for 2009. But when fees, travel and other expenses are totaled for consultants, it turns out that eMeg actually has forked out about $12.7 million to various strategic, research, media, fund-raising and other consultants.

A close reading of the report also reveals eMeg’s eye-popping financial relationships with a cadre of political and business associates.

For example: Not only has Whitman paid $350,000 categorized as “campaign consultants” to Tokoni – the online networking firm founded by her former eBay retainers Alex Kazim, Mary Lou Song and Rajiv Dutta, and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar – but the report elsewhere  lists $2.55 million in payments to Tokoni for information technology costs and web services. That’s a total of $2.9 million for her pals who built and operate her poppy-festooned campaign web site.

Which makes sense, since Kazim was her point man at Skype – eMeg’s $3 billion flop investment for eBay. Calbuzz doesn’t expect to hear any critical eMeg war stories from these guys; for sheer interlocking intertwinedeness,  the Tokoni connection is unmatched.

Our Department of Linguistics and Obscurata assures us that “tokoni” is the Tongan word for “help.” (Not as in: eMeg is not known to be nice to the help, but more like, We’re from Calbuzz, we’re here to help.) The firm is a social networking operation that recently began selling help for  companies to brand themselves, in part by developing online communities for their customers and/or clients.

That’s what they’re doing for eMeg, Mary Lou Song told Helzerman’s Odd Bits a while back: “If you look at Meg Whitman as a brand it makes sense,” she said. “What makes politics so great is talking about life stories and the impact.  She was excited about her site and letting Californians talk about their lives.”

In addition to infusing her campaign with $19 million of her own fortune, Whitman raised about $10.2 million from other donors. But it cost her about $3.6 million, in fees to fund-raising consultants, costs and event expenses to raise that $10.2 million. That’s way too high, several veteran California campaign consultants told us, saying that 15-20% is the rule of thumb: “If you’re paying more than 15% on all the money raised,” said one, “you’re getting hosed.”

Some of eMeg’s largest expenditures were made to a fund-raiser and his business operation. Her FPPC report lists SJZ Inc., Solamere Capital and MJF, LLC.

WTF is all that, we asked.

SJZ Inc. is Spencer J. Zwick. Like Meg, he’s one of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s closest political allies, and now her national finance chairman. At a price: $564,046 to be exact, which is loyalty you can depend on.

Beyond that, eMeg also shelled out $96,000 to Solamere Capital – the investment firm founded by Zwick and his pal Tagg Romney (Mitt’s boy) – apparently for the services of Solamere employee Mason J. Fink. Those payments — $16,000 a month — stopped after July and instead eMeg started paying MJF LLC (Fink’s independent business) directly at a rate of $10,000 a month.

The reason the campaign stopped paying Solamere and started paying Fink directly in August may have something to do with Griff Harsh – Meg’s son with her husband, Stanford neurosurgeon Dr. Griffith R. Harsh IV. Young Griff went to work at Solamere that month as a junior analyst.

Valleywag, a part of Gawker, posted an item – a cheap, sleazy rumor, really — that suggested, without saying so, that eMeg’s campaign was paying Solamere to employ Griff. But according to Tucker Bounds, Meg’s communications honcho, the campaign made the switch when Griff went to work at Solamere specifically to avoid even the appearance of an impropriety, which Valleywag tried to imply.

Still, the connections between Meg and the Romneys are pretty deep, since – according to eMeg narrative – Mitt was her mentor at Bain and Company years ago. Having Mom shovel something like $700,000 to Solamere’s founder, company and an employee appears, at least, not to have hurt Griff’s employment chances.

The most head-banging number in the report is the $3.9 million paid to Smart Media Group of Alexandia, Va., for what appears to be Meg’s online videos and her radio advertising and air time.

Smart Media’s clients include other branded commodities like American Airlines, MasterCard, Columbian coffee and the Dallas Cowboys, along with some entities in search of a brand (like Meg is) – the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Governor’s Association.

There’s much more fun with numbers: Like $290,662 to ACM Aviation for private jets. Or $1.96 million spent on campaign worker’s salaries, of which $50,000 was to California Choice Benefit Administrators for health insurance.

Or how about $528,121 to HSG Communications LLC for salary at $36,000 a month, plus expenses. That’s campaign ayatollah Henry Gomez. As consultant fees go, it’s a very large number, especially for a guy whose experience was as an uberflack at eBay, not a commander in the political trenches.

Atop the food chain – at least until we see in the next report what Mike Murphy’s getting paid* – is Scott Howell & Co, the media consultants from DC, who have thus far been paid $825,000 at $75,000 a month. That’s more even than eMeg has spent on polling and research — $672,463. (As veterans of the polling biz, Calbuzz can testify that with  $670,000 you could find out what left-handed, Basque rutabaga farmers in Fresno County think about global warming, if that’s what you wanted to know.)

Campaign manager Jillian Hasner’s a consultant at $28,500 a month while Jeff Randle, who had been top dog (after Gomez) at $27,500 is now down to a lousy $25,000 a month. Geez. Don’t get too upset: Jeff made $287,500 last year from Meg’s campaign, plus $79,652 billed to Randle Communications; his partner, Mitch Zak, made another $180,000.

Not sure how the salaries get set inside the campaign, with Sara Myers, who had been at $6,000, now pulling $8Gs bi-weekly** a month; Tucker Bounds and Todd Cranney at $7,500; Michael Saragosa and William Semmes at $6,250; John Endert at $5,250 and the Volcanic Sarah Pompei at $5,200. At those rates, our old colleague, Mary Anne Ostrom, is worth much more than the $4,250 she’s pulling now.

As for catering, the expense always most important to Calbuzz: eMeg dished out $12,275 to Wolfgang Puck. Burp.

* The report does include $27,500 a month for November and December for Bonaparte Films LLC for which Murphy is writer, producer and consultant. Total payments to Bonaparte thus far = $57,975 (for two months).

** Imagine our embarrassment when a reader notified us that we had underpaid all those staffers by half!