iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
William Bradley

William Bradley

Posted: July 17, 2010 02:42 PM

Anyone wondering what oligarch-style politics would look like in America need only check out Meg Whitman's machinations. The billionaire Republican wannabe governor of California's technique was in sharp display over the past week. Its focus? Using very big money to bend people to her will, individually and collectively, and taking advantage of what she clearly sees as the emerging post-press era to engage in the most blatant rewriting of her own history, including her most recent history.

In a New York Times article on Whitman this past Monday, the paper noted that the billionaire ex-eBay CEO and national co-chair of the McCain/Palin campaign, who has had no other involvement with Hollywood, gave consultant/lobbyist Mike Murphy a million dollars for his Hollywood production company. Right after he stopped working with Republican primary rival Steve Poizner.


Billionaire Meg Whitman attacks the California Working Families independent expenditure group in this new TV ad. For its ad pointing up the fact that her attack ad on Brown has been judged to be false by non-partisan analysts.

Now here's the interesting thing about what the paper calls Whitman's $1 million investment. Murphy announced to the Los Angeles Times back in 2004 that he was leaving politics for a full-time career in Hollywood. I remember it well, because at the time I was on location in San Diego co-producing a cable movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger in which Murphy was an important character. But in the six years since then, Murphy's Hollywood career has never actually happened.

Aside from being a consulting producer on Dennis Miller's cable TV chat show -- Murphy produced the show's first guest, his then client Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- he has no Hollywood credits.

As someone who's dabbled in show biz, and is decidedly not a Hollywood person but has a lot more than one credit, it occurs to me that that is not easy to pull off.

In any event, the year after the "investment" Murphy went to work formally for Whitman, and is making at least $90,000 a month. He may be making more than that through media deals, but I haven't looked into it. All that is on top of the $1 million he got from Whitman to be a Hollywood producer even though he's really her chief political strategist.


Consultant/lobbyist Mike Murphy, whose only Hollywood credit came for working on the political talk show of Dennis Miller, seen here interviewing a Republican presidential candidate, received over a million dollars from Whitman for his credit-less Hollywood production company.

But that million dollars, as the Times would have it, is actually more. Whitman refuses to release her taxes, instead using only California's much more vague financial statement. The Murphy investment is described as more than a million dollars. How much more? We don't know, and Murphy has nothing to say about any of this.

Some of the coverage in California of the New York Times story has clearly been in the rewriting history category. One might describe it as Orwellian.

There is an article in a daily newspaper and a prominent blog posting suggesting that there was nothing wrong with this. That even though Murphy soon emerged as Whitman's chief political strategist, and has only one Hollywood credit to his name in the six years since he announced that he was getting out of politics -- which he never did -- to work full-time in show biz, the million dollar-plus payment to him is not an unreported Whitman campaign expense.

The newspaper article, by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci, who is very consultant-driven in her coverage, can be viewed here.


The California Working Families group rips billionaire Meg Whitman for her TV attack ad against Jerry Brown, which has been judged to be thoroughly false by the highly-regarded factcheck.org and other journalistic outlets.

In it, Marinucci seriously distorts what Murphy has done, to wit:

But Murphy, who drove Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's disastrous special election efforts in 2005, the governor's successful re-election campaign in 2006 and advised Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, "was always 'retiring from politics' and then he's back in," the consultant added.

In reality, Murphy did not "drive" Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign, nor did he advise the McCain campaign in 2008.

The irony is that Marinucci herself reported the hiring of Steve Schmidt as Schwarzenegger's campaign manager in January 2006, right after I did. Murphy was already out.

In fact, here is Marinucci's own report. And here is my report, breaking the story.

And as she must know, Murphy tried to get into the McCain campaign but was very publicly unsuccessful. As I reported at the time, two years ago, here on the Huffington Post.

Perhaps she just forgot.

The other pro-Murphy pushback on behalf of his million dollar pay-off from Whitman to quit the Poizner campaign came in the form of this posting on the Fox and Hounds site by its founder, conservative business lobbyist Joel Fox.

This sort of distortion is more to be expected, since Fox is a Whitman backer who worked with Murphy in Arnold Inc. back in the day.


Whitman's anti-Brown attack ad, replete with fake headlines and appropriated imagery.

Still, it goes far beyond garden variety deceptive spin to be simply, flat-out false.

I happen to know Murphy is serious about making a go in the movie business. He talked about it with Arnold-the-actor right before he was sworn in as Arnold-the- governor back in 2003 and soon after Murphy declared he was staying in California, taking a break from politics and setting up shop in Hollywood. Murphy is not the first person to come back to his roots while trying a new venture.

As Fox undoubtedly knows better, since he worked with him, Murphy did not "take a break from politics" after the 2003 recall campaign to work in Hollywood.

What he actually did is set up his lobbying/consulting firm in Sacramento and become Schwarzenegger's chief political strategist.

Murphy blatantly solicited all kinds of corporate business as well, embarrassing the governor in the process, then ran the losing "Year of Reform" special election initiative campaigns in 2005.

He was then replaced as Schwarzenegger's chief political strategist when the governor ran for re-election in 2006.

Also rather Orwellian are Whitman's attempts to rewrite her own even more recent political history, through blatant flip-flopping and insistence that there is no consistency.

On Thursday, she told a Bakersfield radio station that she doesn't favor furloughs of state workers during the state budget crisis. But last month, while she hammered Steve Poizner repeatedly in the Republican primary for failing to furlough "a single worker" as state insurance commissioner, she was for it.

But the biggest and most blatant examples of the past week have been on illegal immigration.

Remember way back in the spring, when Whitman was spending a record-shattering $90 million to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the lowest turnout primary election in California history? Sure you do. Poizner threw a big scare into the billionaire for quite a while, so much so that she dropped her carefully concocted pose of brushing aside her record of not hiring Latino executives and portraying herself as friend to the Latino vote, er, community. She had been for comprehensive immigration reform. Now she was against it. She had said she was against denying basic services for illegal immigrants as in the draconian Prop 187 championed by her campaign chairman, ex-Governor Pete Wilson. Then she said she was for denying services.

But a few days ago, she claimed in an op-ed piece published under her name in some East LA newspapers that she and Jerry Brown have the same views on illegal immigration. Oh, really? Brown is for comprehensive immigration, which Whitman said she was against in the primary. That's not the only difference, just the most obvious.

Then Whitman said she's against having state officials inspect workplaces for evidence of employing illegal immigrants. But she was for that in the primary.

Just add it to the long list of Whitman flip flops, from offshore oil drilling, greenhouse gases, the Obama economic stimulus, etc.


Whitman tried positive advertising coming out of the primary, but it fell flat.

Whitman is a candidate who, let's be frank, can't get her story straight. Worse than that, she insists that her story is straight, against all evidence, clearly believing that she can buy her way through paid advertising.

Meanwhile, as Whitman continues her record-shattering spending, her opponents aren't just sitting around. Brown is not in full campaign mode yet, holding fire on his carefully husbanded warchest, but he's out doing TV and radio interviews. While some anxious folks, and few envious ones, fret about Brown in his current rope-a-dope mode, he has made three times as many public appearances since the primary as Whitman has.

And Brown allies are very active.

While Whitman, as always, outspends her opposition, the California Working Families independent expenditure committee is continuing to run TV ads in much of the state.

The group, a coalition of 17 labor unions and some other interested organizations and individuals has raised some $18 million in cash and commitments so far. Which is not the same as ever having had $18.5 million in the bank. The money comes in when it's time to air another flight of ads.

So far, it looks like they'll be able to make it at least to Labor Day, countering Whitman's effort. And despite all of Whitman's spending, Brown still has a slight edge.

I can tell you that the plan for the Whitman folks was to have rolled up a 10 to 15-point lead over Brown to make it hard for him to come back in the fall. That plan has been confounded.

Indeed, at the beginning of the year, former Governor Gray Davis told me that he expected Whitman to take a lead over Brown before falling back sharply in the end. Not enough "there" there, in his view.

In addition to California Working Families' efforts, the Working Californians group is spending over a million dollars on radio ads promoting Brown's record around the state.

There were many meetings on the Democratic side over the past week, especially among labor folks, on the governor's race. The California Labor Federation is gearing up a big voter mobilization campaign. Other major unions have additional plans.

Then there is the California Nurses Association.

Whitman, dogged by the "Queen Meg" theatrical troupe at her infrequent public appearances, and mad about it, has had her campaign attack the nurses union in a variety of ways. So the nurses upped the ante further on Thursday, mobilizing more than a thousand nurses to rally outside Whitman's leafy Atherton estate. Along with the "Queen Meg" troupe.

Whitman wasn't there, of course, as she was at a flashlight company touting her reworked jobs agenda. You know, create jobs by eliminating the capital gains tax, cut taxes for wealthy investors and corporations, and roll back regulations.

As I said, it's reworked, thinly.

What do you think got more attention?

Actually, it might be best for Brown if Whitman's ballyhooed agenda got a lot more attention, as in substantive attention. Because it really does not add up.

And what does the California political environment look like? The Field Poll tells us that President Barack Obama is still quite popular in California. And the opinion dynamics mostly favor Brown.

Obama has a 54% job approval rating in this poll, a tad lower than in other polls I've seen. Much of the Field survey was conducted over the long 4th of July national holiday weekend. 39% disapprove of Obama's performance as president.

In 2008, Obama carried California over John McCain, 61% to 38%. So the opposition to Obama here is no greater than it was when he was first elected president. But support, at least in terms of job approval, is down some since the election, having gone to undecided rather than opposition. However, since the last poll in March, Obama's job approval has ticked up two points.

In national polling, Obama's job approval is generally a little higher than his disapproval, so these have to be viewed as continued good numbers for him.


President Barack Obama, giving a preview of his fall campaign message earlier this month at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, is still quite popular in California.

Democrats and Republicans are about equally polarized in their views of Obama, while independents view him in much the same favorable light as the overall numbers.

Obama's job approval in California goes up sharply with higher education, with 63% of those with post-grad work approving of his presidency. He's also still very popular with younger voters -- he has at least plurality support in all age groups -- and with people of color. With whites, it's a 47-47 split.

The poll also studied desirable and undesirable candidate attributes.

The attributes viewed most positively were, in rank order, experience working with legislative leaders, experience in the business world, progressive views on the issues, moderate views on the issues, pro-choice on abortion, and many years experience in politics. Those attributes ranged from plus-32 to plus-10.

The attributes viewed most negatively were, in rank order, hasn't voted in many elections, does not have experience working with legislative leaders, is over age 70, is an incumbent running for re-election, has never held political office before, is wealthy, opposes President Obama and his policies, and is a Republican. Those attributes ranged from negative-50 to negative-10.

As you can figure out for yourself, while some of those positive and negative attributes benefit the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, Whitman and ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, most clearly do not.

For example, 72-year old Jerry Brown will have to demonstrate his vitality and energy, but Whitman can never change the fact that she hasn't voted and has no experience working with legislative leaders.

And Fiorina, in addition to Whitman's problems, has a serious problem with her staunch opposition to abortion.

The initiatives are shaping up as anticipated, with the oil company/conservative coalition seeking to overturn California's landmark climate change program facing a steep uphill climb, proponents of legalized marijuana starting out even or a little worse, and the move to change the state budget to a majority vote proposition beginning with a big edge.

The reality is that a very controversial initiative should have a strong majority starting out.

Brown, of course, like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the state's climate change program into law, is a staunch and early backer of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy. In fact, Brown was the principal political pioneer of renewable energy during his first stint as governor of California.

Whitman is a staunch opponent of the climate change program. She started off saying she wanted a one-year suspension. Later, during her heated Republican primary duel with Poizner, she said that the program should be done away with altogether. But she hasn't endorsed this initiative, though she clearly supports the policy in it and went so far as to question the scientific legitimacy of climate change during the primary.

Not that her lack of a formal endorsement will help her in the campaign.


You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.