The Triple Digit Campaign

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"What I have designed is a campaign that is designed to win."

That was Meg Whitman last week on ABC's Good Morning America, when asked about her high spending campaign for governor. She's used variations on that theme in the past when asked the same question. Tonight, we've got a new glimpse at what Whitman designed: an effort funded by a colossus of cash that may break even some national records for a non-presidential effort.

Meg Whitman at the California GOP Convention, March 2010

Photo: John Myers

Today's filing with the Secretary of State's office (PDF) shows a total of $100.3 million spent by the former eBay leader's gubernatorial campaign since she launched the effort in 2009, and $80.8 million of that total spent in the first six months of 2010.

On the contributions side, Whitman has self-funded her effort so far to the tune of $91 million. As of June 30, she had $10 million left in the bank.

"Meg doesn't owe anyone anything," said spokeswoman Sarah Pompei in an emailed statement. "She is running a smart, strategic campaign designed to win and has invested the necessary resources to ensure California voters know the truth about her plans..."

While the Whitman camp knew there was no way to avoid the reporters who would write about her big spending effort, they were in no hurry to make the data public, with the 691 page tome arriving electronically on the state's campaign finance website at 5:04 p.m. Contrast that to the campaign of Jerry Brown, who did everything it could to nudge the press into writing about his campaign finance report -- including sending out the data ahead of the formal document in an email at 12:05 p.m.

The Brown campaign was sitting on about $23.2 million as of June (more as of now, the staff says) and spent just a tad over $633,000 in the first six months of the year. Yes, that's about $1 spent by the Democrat for every $127.64 spent by the Republican. Just in case you were wondering. And he's in no hurry to change that.

"I think if you are running against an opponent who has virtually unlimited personal wealth," said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford this afternoon in a phone interview, "there's no point in using up your comparatively limited resources in the summer months when people aren't really paying attention to the election."

That strategy has been hotly debated among the state's politicos, with many urging Brown to strike before it's too late. But the candidate was no doubt buoyed by last week's poll numbers (disputed by Team Whitman) that call into question whether all of the Republican's cash has largely bounced off the hulls of the Brown warship. And Brown's team is enjoying the free shots they're getting tonight at Whitman's spending dossier; campaign manager Steve Glazer seems downright giddy on his newly created Twitter page: "Only 3 important issues in Ca." says Whitman. $1,299,059 in survey expenses to figure that out. Talking to voters is a lot cheaper."

It's also worth noting that Whitman's coffers -- again, about $10 million left as of June 30 -- are going to need to be replenished. Since the report's cutoff date, she's raised about $2.5 million from an assortment of donors. But given her campaign's 'burn rate' of cash, won't Whitman soon be writing another check? No info on that query from her staff when I asked.

Brown's effort, to be fair, is also being helped by the shadow campaign of independent expenditures from organized labor. The most generous, California Working Families, today reported spending just over $4 million so far with about an equal amount left in the bank (combining data from the report and data from the campaign of contributions since June 30). That allows the Democratic candidate to focus his PR effort on getting into the news for free, so-called "earned" media. And Team Whitman refers to the whole union family (which also includes one other prominent, but for now not terribly deep pocketed, group) as "Jerry Brown, Inc."

No one knows where this campaign, all groups combined, will land in the history books in terms of cash... other than at the top of the list. As for Whitman herself, she's well north of any other wealthy Californian who's spent their own cash to get elected (and most have failed). But it looks as though she's going to have to really dig down deeper to break the national record, one which looks to be held by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

[Note: Some news outlets are pegging Whitman's total campaign spending at just below the magic triple digit number, using an estimate closer to $99 million. I suspect the difference is the total in unpaid bills reported on the new filing. I consider those to be spending decisions already made -- thus, the figure stated above. --JM]

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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