New Anti-Brown Ad Has Familiar Ring

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A TV ad funded by a business advocacy organization attacking the long record of Jerry Brown, featuring a morphing of a younger Brown into his current self, and criticizing the Democrat's record as governor more than two decades ago.

This week's new issue ad? Nope; rather, a TV from this past spring that attacked Brown... and looks remarkably similar, using even some of the same photos and facts.

The new ad from the Small Business Action Committee debuted on stations this week. Ever since word of its existence first surfaced, it's been the subject of intense questions (and criticism) about the lack of transparency of the donors, and its financial ties to GOP nominee Meg Whitman.

On Wedneday, SBAC president Joel Fox defended (in a column on his political website) the keeping of the donors secret. "Issues raised before the campaigns are in full swing, marked by law at 45 days before an election," he wrote, "do not require disclosure and allow those who want to discuss issues without retribution to speak freely."

Setting that issue aside for a moment, though... when I first caught it last night (in a commercial break during Access Hollywood, of all shows), it struck me as instantly familiar.

Only after a quick internet search did it become clear just how familiar.

It was just this past April that a different independent expenditure ad attacking Jerry Brown from a business perspective hit the airwaves, an ad from the California Chamber of Commerce. The ad didn't stay on the air long, after a controversy about whether it represented the feelings of most businesses belonging to the Chamber, or just a few.

As you can see, the Cal Chamber ad is quite similar to the SBAC ad. Visually, both ads appear to use the exact same photos of a younger and older Brown, the same photo of a current day Brown with arched-up eyebrows, and even the same stock photo of an emtpy chair (symbolizing, in both ads, unemployment).

I asked SBAC's Fox about the similarities this morning, and it turns out both ads were produced by the same guy -- campaign communications veteran Larry McCarthy, who's also worked on campaigns ranging from Pete Wilson's winning 1990 gubernatorial campaign to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 infrastructure bond package, to even PR efforts during the confirmation process of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

While the visual similarities are most striking, there are content parallels, too. The April Cal Chamber ad begins with unemployment data, as does the new SBAC ad. Both ads also accuse Brown, as governor, of taking the state budget from surplus to deficit.

To be fair, there are differences. The April ad jabs Brown for his record as mayor of Oakland, while the new ad jabs Brown on accusations that's he eager to sue businesses over breaking government regulations.

(On that last jab: it's a quote which appeared in the Sacramento Bee's weekly political roundup section more than two years ago. And it's attributed to Brown this way: "State Attorney General Jerry Brown on his determination to go to court to enforce California laws to cut pollutants blamed for global warming." That's more specific than the SBAC's reference to "government regulations.")

So is this coincidence or coordination? SBAC's Joel Fox says the former.

"The business community, as a whole, has a similar image of the attorney general," said Fox this morning in a brief phone conversation. Fox also acknowledges that the Small Business Action Committee's political and policy efforts are not all paid for by small companies; rather, he says the group's mission is to advocate for small businesses and their role as an engine of the economy.

"We never said that it was all small business," said Fox.

Whether the ad has any traction in the ever-so-slowly heating up campaign season remains to be seen. It is, though, a reminder that in the world of independent groups who will be making noise about the race for governor, it's not going to be just groups bashing Meg Whitman, as has been the case lately.

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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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