Archive for 2010

10* of the Top Quotes of the Week in CA Politics

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

From The Commish taking a big swing at eMeg to Hurricane Carly aiming a low blow at the the sheepish Dudley Do Right, this week easily scored as the most entertaining to date of 2010, simply because of the surfeit of great quotes flying across the internets. Here are 10 of the best things anybody said about California politics. [Make it to the end for the contest challenge.]

1-“Usually that sort of thing occurs in a one-on-one conversation. It takes a true imbecile to put it in writing.
— Former federal prosecutor Donald Heller offering a lawman’s perspective on eMeg strategist Mike Murphy’s ham-handed effort to force Steve Poizner from the governor’s race.

2-“Part of this is politics.”
— Michael Semler, Sac State political science professor with a lofty thought about the Poizner-Whitman political extortion clash. Ya think?

3-“There are some things that sound easy, but you might as well send somebody a get well card.”
— Speaker Nancy Pelosi, suggesting Hallmark is to be preferred over trying to pass health care reform in pieces.

4-“My goal is to get things noticed.”
— Fred Davis, guerrilla ad man for Hurricane Carly Fiorina, on the viral sensation of his Demon Sheep ad attacking Tom Campbell..

5-If she emerges from the primary she’ll find that California voters of all parties will reject her brand of strong-arm politics.”
— An unctuous John Burton, who would disembowel relatives just for saying the word “Republican,” objects to Meg Whitman’s brand of campaigning.

6-“Kamala Harris opposes the death penalty. In fact, she refused to seek the death penalty even for a convicted cop-killer. She also refused the death penalty for an illegal immigrant gang member who murdered an entire family. This murderer was on the streets only because Harris had released him when he was arrested a few weeks earlier. And he was able to stay in San Francisco despite being arrested because Harris opposes deporting illegal immigrants, even after they commit violent crimes.
“She also created a program that trains illegal immigrants for jobs in the U.S. One illegal immigrant from her program robbed and then tried to murder his victim.”
— Description of San Francisco D.A. and Democrat attorney general wannabe Kamala Harris from poll question by primary rival, Assemblyman Ted Lieu. We think they were testing her negatives.

7– ‘Let’s say what we mean, mean what we say.”
— Meg Whitman, in her new TV ad, which she was forced to change after being caught exaggerating about how long she’s lived in California.

8– “I think some of these Neanderthals, is what I’d have to call them, who want to turn the clock backwards, don’t fully understand the job-creation potential that AB32 and our climate-change laws in California will be able to stimulate . . .
— Undeclared Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Brown, talking about his soon-to-be-formal GOP opponents on KGO Radio.

9-“No matter where you go in the world, people still want to come to California. There’s no one screaming, like, ‘I can’t wait to get to Iowa.
— The diplomatic Gov. Schwarzmuscle, endearing himself to folks in the Hawkeye State.

10-“After reading the ridiculous charges made by Steve Poizner during today’s strange press conference, all I can say is that I’m starting to worry about the Commissioner’s mental condition.”
— Meg Whitman senior adviser Mike Murphy responding to charges that he tried to extort Poizner out of the governor’s race (see #1 above)

* We lied. Here’s one more quote we couldn’t resist:

“Our campaign will forever be a demon sheep free zone.”
— Chuck DeVore, trying to raise money off Carly’s awful ad.

CONTEST HERE! To the Calbuzzer who posts an even better quote than the ones we have here before Monday — two coveted Calbuzz buttons! Totally arbitrary judging by Dr. P.J. Hackenflack.

Carly’s Demon Sheep Meets eMeg’s $5M TV Buy

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Tom Meyer’s take on Tom Campbell today finds the wannabe Republican Senator posing, Scott Brown-like, for a Cosmo centerfold. This makes Dudley Do Right the first California politician in  history to be portrayed in one week as both a wolf in sheep’s clothing and a wolf in no clothing.

As the flapdoodle grew over rival Hurricane Carly Fiorina’s horrible web ad —  which casts Dudley as an evil, liberal, ram in drag lurking dangerously amid the clueless GOP flock  —  the authentic awfulness of iCarly’s 3:22 online commercial could be measured by one simple fact: it was so bad that Campbell e-blasted it to his own supporters.

Embarrassing, inane and juvenile, the now-infamous Demon Sheep ad joins Fiorina’s much-panned campaign web site in establishing her clearly as the leading cyberdunce and technoklutz running in 2010 for any office anywhere in the nation.

While Hurricane Carly’s handlers on Thursday sought to make light of how badly the spot bombed across the far reaches of the internets (“in all seriousness, who doesn’t need some entertainment to supplement the drier aspects of politics” one of her mouthpieces averred in an e-mail – clunk) it was hard to find anyone in state politics who applauded it as a really, really swell idea.

“If a political consultant tried to cut a happy cows-make-great-cheese ad while on blotter acid, it would look something like this,” said one longtime Republican strategist not playing in the Senate race.

For Carly’s sake, Calbuzz sincerely hopes she didn’t pay eMeg-level prices for this dog, the most head-scratching narrative since “Mulholland Drive.” Putting aside the fact that calling the soft-spoken, terminally mild-mannered Tom Campbell a “wolf” is the coolest thing anybody’s said about him in 30 years, the ad suffers from two fatal flaws:

First, its production values reek of something that might be churned out by a decidedly untalented, would-be film studies major at Santa Monica City College. (which, truth be told, is unfair to SMCC students). The over-the-top narrator can’t decide whether he’s talking to Campbell or addressing the viewers, freely mixing up the second and third person voices, and the cheesy wolf face supposedly masking Campbell would be a disgrace to the average denizen of the Bidey Wee Pre-School and Toddler Care Center.

More substantively, the central message of the ad portrays conservative Republicans -– the people whose support Fiorina is supposedly seeking — as a flock of dumbass ovine, baa-baa-baaing while mindlessly munching grass and mooning the big bad wolf lurking in the meadow.

Accusing iCarly of being in full “mutton meltdown,” Campbell flack James Fisfis properly harrumphed: “Contrary to Carly Fiorina’s insulting portrayal of fiscal conservatives as sheep, these are in fact involved people who engage the issues and ask tough questions.”

More amusing are the countless legions of tweeters and web commenters weighing in on the weighty matter, such as those over at Gawker, who ranged from members of the Responsible Bestiality Community (“Needs more sheep fucking”) to more serious political types (“Is this video trying to get me to vote for Carly Fiorina or convert me to Scientology?”) and the more be-here-now, philosophically inclined (“Meanwhile, my HP printer still jams”).

eMeg’s $5-million Mission – Make People Like Her: Want more proof that Meg Whitman is prepared to spend unlimited amounts of money to become California’s next governor? How about a maiden ad buy in excess of $5 million, including the Super Bowl pre-game show, for a TV commercial that never mentions that the candidate is a Republican?

It’s a soft-sell approach, with nice flourishes for skeptical women – simple jewelry and makeup, lots of nodding, mentioning that people are “scared to death,” and suggesting that “a business perspective is a bit of what California needs right now.” Not too much, you see, just a bit. Aaaaaw. Gentle branding, with only fleeting glimpses of the candidate herself.

Sure the ad fudges how long eMeg has lived in California (she suggests she’s lived here since 1980, which isn’t true) and there’s no demon sheep, but it’s a nice piece of work by Scott Howell and lays out Meg’s three priorities very clearly: creating jobs, cutting spending and fixing schools.

Why no mention of her actual political party (the one she joined up with just a short time ago)? “She is quite obviously a Republican and when voters are in the voting booth, they’ll know she’s a Republican,” Megaphoner Tucker Bounds told us. “This is an introductory ad. She’s introducing herself and her conservative principles and her solutions for California and that was the focus.”

Nice spin Tucker. But the reason she never mentions that she’s a Republican is that she’s not even running for the GOP nomination with this ad – she’s running for the general election, when she’ll need all the independents and Democrats she can possibly attract. This ad speaks right past the Republican base, assuming that she can win the nomination without catering to the conservative GOP rank-and-file.

Incidentally, that’s the same meta-message eMeg has sent to the state GOP by refusing to join Steve “The Commish” Poizner in debate at the statewide convention next month – that she shouldn’t be expected to try to hustle support from the Republican base: they should be delighted to have her as their standard-bearer. And thank you for that.

Teddy D. scores: Those looking for news of the Senate race with a bit more, um, grrrrav-i-tas are advised to check out Teddy Davis’ report on an interview with Campbell on ABC’s “The Note,” in which Tom Boy calls for a new carbon tax, coupled with cuts in the payroll tax, as alternative to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer’s cap-and-trade proposal.

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!

Foxy Brown Lies Low as Poiz and eMeg Trade Fire

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Meg Whitman is an arrogant extortionst. Steve Poizner is a wimpy nutcase.  And Jerry Brown is laughing his ass off.

So goes the meme of the week.

For those who got drunk watching the Pro Bowl and missed Monday: The first, deliciously nasty exchange of the campaign for the Republican nomination for governor erupted when Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner asked  the FBI, the U.S. Attorney and California Attorney General Brown – not to mention God, the CIA and the BBC – to investigate rival and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman for possibly criminal actions. Citing an email from eMeg consultant Mike Murphy to Poizner pollster Jan van Lohuizen, the Commish insisted Whitman had countenanced an illegal effort to force him out of the race.

Whitman’s campaign, in Murphy’s voice, immediately fired back, calling into question Poizner’s “mental condition” and saying he’d blown out of all proportion a back channel effort to suggest it was in everyone’s interest for him to quit a race he is trailing badly. For those seeking details, there’s no lack of blow-by-blow event coverage, with the SacBee’s Torey Van Oot leading the pack.

As a legal matter, Poizner’s demand for eMeg and Murphy to be prosecuted for political extortion seems implausible. Here’s a simple test: If Murphy had made those comments to a reporter who had published them, could he be charged with extortion? Not hardly. As a political matter, however, the exchange was important for three key reasons:

1. Tactics: In aggressively going after Whitman, Poizner was simply following the Calbuzz Third Principle of Campaigns:  When you’re behind, pick a fight.

Trailing badly in the polls and in fund-raising, The Commish made a play to shake up the dynamic of the race before it settled, while jump starting his own languishing campaign. As a side benefit, he also stepped on the more important story of the day, as newly filed campaign finance reports not only show Whitman with a big advantage over him in money in the bank — $30-to-19 million -– but also having out-raised her rival — $10-to-2 million -– in 2009 contributions from people not named Whitman or Poizner.

Team Whitman for their part handled the counter-attack just right. Murphy’s comment about Poizner’s mental health carried the right tone of bemused dismissiveness, and put Commish in the position of debating eMeg’s consultant, an inferior, instead of the principal herself.

Winner: Poizner. He introduced the notion of Meg’s sleaziness into the political bloodstream and, by forcing her campaign to respond, gained in his effort to put himself on equal footing with the front-runner.

2. Message: Poizner’s action laid down a free media foundation for what is likely to become a central attack line when he goes on the air: That Her Megness is an arrogant and entitled Leona Helmsley-type CEO who is trying to buy California’s highest office without lowering herself to such matters as voting, meeting with California political reporters or debating an opponent.

The Whitman response, by contrast, reflects an effort to portray Poizner as a nerdy weenie, lacking the stature needed to be governor. In condescending to Poizner, Murphy — known for his sometimes over-the-top swashbuckling — portrays him as weak and ineffectual, a little boy who gets in a fight on the playground and runs to the teacher yelling, “She hit me.”

Winner: Tie. Both campaigns succeeded in sending messages to the public about what they perceive as major weaknesses in their opponent’s personae.

3. Consultants: Insiders say that Murphy and Stuart Stevens, Poizner’s chief consultant, don’t much like each other, and have feuded for years. At one point, Murphy circulated a video to other GOP consultants showing spots prepared by the two, and accusing Stevens of ripping him off. The early attack by Poizner, coupled with the bad blood between the consultants, means the primary race could become one of the roughest in history.

Winner: Jerry Brown (who doesn’t have consultants).

But Murphy comes out okay, too. With a strong counter-punch, not to mention Murphy’s email language, eMeg has signaled she will, in fact, do whatever is needed to “tear up” her rival. At a time when Poizner has yet to establish a positive image with the public —  or any image, for that matter —  getting locked into a brawl early on is a big hurt. Especially when it’s the candidate versus the consultant. (This is one of our friend Garry South’s favorite gambits — getting the opposing candidate into a pissing match.)

Warning to Murph:  It was a bonehead move to say — in writing — that “we could unite entire party behind Steve right now to build a serious race against Dianne F [Feinstein] in 2012. Could be a strong GOP year and DiFi will be 78 or 79 years old.” We suspect Lady Di will not be amused.

As a political matter, the only clear beneficiary of the sudden exchange appeared to be Brown, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, who’s quietly raising money for the general election and hoping to stay above the fray while the two, extremely wealthy GOP contenders launch mutual, brutal attacks financed by their personal fortunes.

Brown is so far behind his GOP opponents — especially Whitman — in terms of financial resources, that his fervent hope in the next few months is that the Republican rivals become enmeshed in exactly the kind of battle Murphy predicted in his “extortion” email.

H-P Founders Would Be For Campbell, Not Fiorina

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

If William Hewlett and David Packard were alive today,  the famous eponymous founders of Hewlett Packard Co. would not be supporting ex- H-P CEO Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate; they would be backing Tom Campbell.

Not only were both Hewlett and Packard enthusiastic recruiters and backers of Campbell in his first race for Congress in Silicon Valley in 1988, but their heirs fought bitterly with Fiorina over her management of H-P, and were crucial to the board of directors’ movement that canned Hurricane Carly in 2005.

In the Senate campaign, Fiorina trumpets her H-P tenure as central to her qualifications for the Senate. If she gets the Republican nomination, however, you can be sure that incumbent and veteran gut-fighter Barbara Boxer will let voters know Carly was picked as one of the worst CEOs of all time by, among others, Portfolio magazine:

A consummate self-promoter, Fiorina was busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered.

Bottom line: She became CEO in July, 1999 when HP’s stock price was $52 per share. Five years later it was $21 per share – a 60% decline – while the stock price of competitor Dell rose to $40, from $37 in the same period.

“Hewlett and Packard would roll over in their graves if they knew what she did to the H-P Way,” said one retired H-P executive we know well. “She was hated inside the company and by most retirees.” [Thanks to Calbuzzer wygk for pointing us to this anti-Carly web site operated by former H-P employees.]

Getting bounced from H-P wasn’t the only time Fiorina was shown the door.

In her only experience in big-time politics, she served for a while as a media surrogate for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. She lasted until September, when she said in a radio interview that Palin lacked the experience to run a major company like H-P – a gaffe she compounded by adding that, anyway, none of the candidates for president – including her man McCain – had the wherewithal to handle the task. Though she continued working on fundraising, she was pretty much banished as a campaign spokesperson campaign after that.

Given her history, it’s not surprising to read that Arianna Packard, daughter of David Woodley Packard (who, along with Walter Hewlett, the other eldest H-P son,  led the proxy fight to overturn Fiorina’s merger of H-P and Compaq), had given $2,400 to Assemblyman and GOP Senate hopeful Chuck DeVore. Or that H-P’s PAC has given the maximum $10,000 to Boxer.

Now that Campbell’s in the Senate race, our bet is that H-P and other Silicon Valley money mostly goes to Tom Boy, not the former Cara Carleton Sneed.

P.S. We tried to get former Rep. Ed Zschau, our old friend and the prototypical Silicon Valley politician — the original Zschauist —  to opine on whether Dave and Bill would support Campbell or Fiorina but he wouldn’t bite. He noted, however, that in addition to his current gigs teaching at Princeton and being involved in six start-up companies, he’s a member of Campbell’s campaign finance committee and that some of Dudley Do-Right’s campaign staffers were involved in his own Senate bid 24 years ago (covered by your creaky Calbuzzers).

My greatest strength is probably my humility: In a recent column on business leadership, Wall Street Journal online executive editor Alan Murray cited Fiorina as a fine example of what not to do:

Often, it’s in the humility department that modern leaders fail. Think of Carly Fiorina, who as CEO of Hewlett-Packard had her own picture inserted on the wall between those of the company’s iconic founders, Messers. Hewlett and Packard. Ms. Fiorina’s leadership of H-P foundered in part because she was perceived as devoting too much time to cultivating her own image, and too little to fixing the company’s internal management problems.

Even though cultivating your own image is the name of the game in politics, Fiorina’s efforts sometimes suggest she thinks that Senators get paid by the word.

Her daily barrage of press releases has already become a joking matter among political writers, For her campaign, however, it should be no joke that sometimes, less is more, or that a politician’s comments get devalued when the volume of them becomes too great (see Obama, Barack).

Last week was typical: the Hurricane’s campaign sent out at least 15 announcements (weekend excluded) about iCarly’s views on every conceivable subject. There were five on Wednesday alone, including an attack on Boxer over job creation; an attack on the Administration over Central Valley water supply; an account of an event at USC; her anticipatory comments about Obama’s State of the Union address; and her (You Tubed) comments about the actual SOTU. No word yet on when we’ll see her statement offering a look back at the State of the Union.

Who Got Pantsed, Whitman or Poizner? Is eMeg a felon? Is Mike Murphy an unindicted co-conspirator? Is Commish Poizner certifiably insane? Is Stuart Stevens Nurse Ratched in drag? Tune in tomorrow when Calbuzz definitively unravels this second-rate civic soap opera. Here’s a link to the story if you missed the action.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Calbuzz looooves Lady Gaga, the Carly Fiorina of pop music, but the whole pink lady from outer space thing is too much even for us.