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Meg Whitman's money problem

by Mytheos Holt, published

Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor has hit a snag.  Despite all the financial advantages that Whitman bears, polls continue to show her and Jerry Brown battling it out in a close race.

To be sure, some of this may rise from California’s inborn suspicion of Republicans as one of the bluest States in the union, an element which is sure to be strengthened by the disastrous tenure of the current Republican governor. However, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling suggests something which Brown backers and (evidently) readers of the Daily Kos have greeted with glee as a rare spot of good news: Whitman may just have too much money to be Governor. An anonymous Kos writer notes: 

     “Furthermore, PPP was savvy enough to ask about Whitman's profligate spending. They did so indirectly, asking voters if they thought there ought to be limits on how much a candidate can donate to their own campaign. Despite there being some clear constitutional issues with that, as a political matter voters in California would like to see it happen. A total of 52 percent favored such limits, with only 33 percent opposed. Even Whitman's own base (conservatives) were not unilaterally opposed, with 37 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.” 

The article goes on to note that Whitman’s current expenditures on her own campaign have generated some resentment from Californians who view that sort of money as better spent on things like teachers’ salaries or school lunches. However, it’s not a politician’s job to assess the morality of the electorate’s urges, but to fulfill them, and as of now, Whitman seems to be having difficulty doing that on matters related to her large personal fortune.

Granted, the already cited naturally Democratic-leaning proclivities of the voters are no doubt in play, as is Whitman’s politically costly battle with the California Nurses’ Association, but these elements do not quite explain the six point lead Brown somehow has maintained in the poll cited above. 

But, so what? 

Whitman’s supporters could easily see this as a minor hiccup in a campaign whose narrative can easily be redirected to focus on Jerry Brown’s flaws. Whitman, despite her evasive answers on some issues, still has the potential to gain resonance with her own party’s base (some of whom may still be sore over the fight with Steve Poizner) and capture a significant enough margin of the 14 percent of undecided voters to win the election. Yes, but thanks to other recent items in the news, this comeback may be thornier than before. 

Specifically, a recent story in the Los Angeles Times reveals that: 

     “Because of what her campaign described as a clerical mistake, Whitman failed to pay $304.15 in unemployment taxes for her household help back then. She had moved to California and made good in short order after the state filed a judgment against her. Now it appears that Brown has his own tax issue. 

     In 1998, the Alameda County tax collector filed a lien against Brown’s warehouse loft in Oakland for $1,416.50 in “unpaid unsecured property taxes.” He paid in full and the lien was released. Like Whitman, Brown’s campaign said the unpaid taxes were an honest mistake, the result of transferring partial ownership of his loft to his parents and his We the People foundation in 1995." 

Ordinarily, this sort of thing would make easy electoral hay for GOP candidates, who traditionally use the perception of Democratic hypocrisy to hammer tax issues home. To be sure, there is a chronological advantage for Whitman here in that Brown’s tax issue has hit the news after hers, and also a financial one, given that her liability is so small.

However, the idea of a billionaire tax dodger is still a more inherently dangerous one than a career politician who’s also a tax dodger, especially at a time when suspicion of America’s “ruling class” is at an all-time high, especially among Republicans. 

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