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Meg Whitman Leads Spending Race In California Governor's Race

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Billionaire Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman spent money at a rapid pace last year, burning through $19.5 million a full year ahead of the general election, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday.

Documents filed with the secretary of state's office showed the former eBay chief executive is spending generously to bankroll a large campaign team, run a series of statewide radio ads introducing herself to voters and hold fundraisers that netted $10 million in contributions.

Corporate titans were among Whitman's biggest donors, including $25,900 each – the maximum donation per election cycle – from Cisco Systems chief executive John Chambers, eBay chief executive John Donahoe and a host of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers. Whitman took in more than $850,000 from out-of-state donors in the second half of the year as she crisscrossed the country hosting fundraisers from Florida to New York.

Whitman also gave $19 million of her own money to her campaign in 2009. She ended the year with $10.5 million cash on hand but has since given herself another $20 million from her personal fortune.

The GOP contest this June is expected to become the most expensive primary in California history. Whitman has said she could spend more than $100 million in her quest to become governor.

Her rival in the Republican primary, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, has given his campaign nearly $19 million so far and spent $3.7 million. Monday's filing shows the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur has raised about $2 million from donors and ended the year with $17.7 million in the bank.

The Republican nominee is expected to face the famously frugal Jerry Brown, the state attorney general and presumed Democratic nominee. He has yet to declare his candidacy but is collecting large donations from American Indian tribes and labor unions.

His donors also include Hollywood celebrities such as Dreamworks founders Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and Netflix founder Reed Hastings.

Brown raised nearly $12 million in 2009 but spent just $137,000 in his unofficial quest to return to the office he held for two terms in the 1970s and early 1980s. Brown has since hired a modestly sized campaign staff.

Monday was the deadline for political candidates and groups to file their end-of-the-year campaign fundraising and spending statements.

Among the committees filing Monday was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Dream Team, which he uses to fund ballot-measure campaigns. It reported spending more than $7 million last year, most of it on last May's failed special election campaign for a package of budget fixes.

Since July, the Dream Team has raised less than $500,000 and ended the year with about $600,000 on hand. Schwarzenegger is expected to campaign this year for an $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot.

Two committees that are proposing to hold a constitutional convention to reform state government, Repair California and California Forward, reported having a combined $300,000 at the end of 2009 as they push to get an initiative on the November ballot.

A committee backing another initiative likely to draw attention in 2010, a measure to legalize and tax marijuana, reported raising and spending $1.3 million last year. Tax Cannabis 2010 submitted signatures last month to qualify an initiative on the November ballot.

The group ended the year with $32,000 cash on hand.

In a sign they are likely to wait until 2012 to revisit the debate over gay marriage in California, groups that are seeking to overturn the 2008 vote restricting marriage to one man and one woman dramatically slowed their fundraising efforts toward the end of 2009.

Equality California, which led the "No on 8" campaign against Proposition 8, raised less than $7,000 in the final six months of the year, leaving it with $608,935 in the bank at year's end. The Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based gay-rights organization, reported just $345 cash on hand.

The group ProtectMarriage.com, which supported the ban on gay marriage, reported raising less than $18,500 in the second half of the year. It had $218,000 banked at year's end after paying $70,635 to political consultants.

(This version CORRECTS that Brown held governor's office for two terms.)