Drawing bipartisan support

Although he has not officially announced his candidacy for Governor, State Attorney General Jerry Brown filled his exploratory committee coffers with over $12 million in 2009.  And he’s tapping into Governor Schwarzenegger’s VIP billionaire donor base along the way.

Los Angeles billionaire developer, Rick Caruso, has donated over $650,000 to various Schwarzenegger committees, and on December 31, he crossed party lines to donate $25,000 to Brown’s exploratory campaign.  William Robinson, the billionaire founder of DHL, has donated over $3 million to Governor Schwarzenegger over the last six years, but also crossed party lines to contribute $39,800 to Brown’s committee on December 30.  And Netflix founder, Reed Hastings, though a Democrat, had donated $24,100 to GOP gubernatorial candidate, Steve Poizner in 2008, has apparently had a change of heart, giving almost $52,000 to Brown in the final days of ’09.

The $64,000 question is…why?  Why are former, big-time GOP donors casting their substantial monetary support Brown’s way?

Caruso offered a potential explanation.  He stated, “Some of my other Republican friends might question this once the word gets (out).  But I’ll think they’ll understand that because Sacramento is so screwed up, you need someone who knows the system.  Jerry Brown has been on the ground and in the weeds.”  This is certainly a reasonable explanation as Brown, a political icon in California, possesses plentiful experience in public office.  Robinson and Hastings did not comment.

Independent voters may wish to ask a few probing questions, however.  For example, are these billionaires simply hedging their bets with someone whom they feel is the projected winner?  After all, Brown is an extremely well-known and well-respected Democrat in a Blue State.  Are these affluent donors merely laying the groundwork to secure special favors, preferential treatment, and future influence in policy making?  Are these billionaires inspired by the ideas, principles, and solutions Brown is offering, even though he has yet to outline a specific plan, at least publicly, for California’s recovery? Or, as Caruso stated, is it as simple as pledging support for a Sacramento insider whose experience is badly needed at this critical time?

Regardless of the true motivation, the fact that former, top tier GOP donors are dropping big money on Brown in these early stages raises the possibility that Brown may become an all-purpose candidate who is able to garner support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  If Brown officially announces and is able to generate at least a modest degree of support from Republicans and Independents, then the gubernatorial race will likely be an easy victory, since California is a Democratic powerhouse.

However, in a year where an increasingly angry populace is railing against “politics as usual”, Brown’s insider status may prove to be more of handicap.  In a year where an increasingly dissatisfied grassroots movement is viewing big money with a more skeptical eye, perhaps Brown’s billionaire donors will not be viewed so favorably by many voters.  But, this raises an even more fundamental question about California’s 2010 gubernatorial race.  Billionaire donors are supporting Brown, but on the GOP side, billionaire business icons, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, are utilizing their vast sums to fund their developing campaigns.  While being wealthy is certainly no sin, independent-minded voters may already be skeptical about the prospect of California’s next governor being almost exclusively decided by billionaire investors and candidates.

Over the next ten months, California voters will get to see this drama unfold.  Big money and insider politics will once again take center stage.  Will California travel down the same path it has before, or will it break the mold and take the road less traveled?

We’re going to find out.