Meg Whitman rewrites campaign spending book

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Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman greets supporters after she announces she's running for governor as a Republican.

SACRAMENTO — Chartered jets that offer "white glove service," fancy fundraisers in Beverly Hills and beyond, and enough high-priced political consultants to fill an auditorium.

Those are a few of billionaire Meg Whitman's favorite things as she carries out her remarkably lavish campaign for California governor.

Whitman's top political consultant, Mike Murphy, makes $90,000 a month. A crew of videographers and the former White House photographer chronicle her stops around the Golden State. She bought an entire TV channel at the host hotel during the state convention while hiring consultants from Florida to Los Angeles to help her blanket the airwaves with a never-ending stream of advertising.

The former eBay CEO has spent more than $81 million so far - $71 million from her personal fortune. And if she wins the GOP nomination on Tuesday, it marks only the halfway point in her quest for office.

Whitman or her Republican rival, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, will face Democratic candidate Jerry Brown and a host of deep-pocketed, Democratic-aligned special interests in what surely will be a record-setting spending spree.

Whitman's outsize spending, detailed in her recently filed campaign fundraising report, stands in stark contrast to her austerity plans for California should she win the primary and get elected in November to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

She is promising to dramatically cut state spending, eliminate 40,000 state workers and bring a "common sense" budgeting approach to California.

The California Nurses Association, which supports Brown in the governor's race, has already seized on the irony, launching a campaign to stop Whitman from "crowning herself Queen of California." The union has hired an actress to portray "Queen Meg" outside some of Whitman's appearances.

Whitman says she is trying to run a "smart strategic campaign," and wants to make sure all Californians have a chance to hear her plan before they choose the next governor.

Political consultants are by far the biggest beneficiaries of Whitman's largesse.

The Washington-based advertising agency Smart Media Group has received more than $47 million from her campaign. Smart Media's website says its goal is to "saturate your message without wasting money." More than a dozen consultants on the campaign make more than $15,000 a month.

Whitman's advertising assault includes all kinds of political gimmicks. Among the unique and undoubtedly expensive tactics is a 30-minute, prerecorded town hall commercial and a cable TV spot that lets viewers order a Whitman bumper sticker by pressing a button on their remote control.

Whitman's campaign also spent $43,000 at the celebrity-favored Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, $44,000 at the U.S. Grant Luxury Collection Hotel in San Diego's historic Gaslamp district, $30,000 at an exclusive corporate resort in San Francisco, and $20,000 at Bernardus Lodge & Winery, "nestled among the oaks and vineyards of scenic Carmel Valley," according to its website.

She also has spent $530,000 on chartered plane service since 2009, on top of more than $700,000 in other travel costs.

Whitman has outspent Poizner 2-to-1 over the last two months, just as he stepped up his campaign spending in the final stretch before the primary.

Poizner is wealthy in his own right, after selling a GPS cell-phone chip company for $1 billion. Yet the $25 million he has spent from his own fortune seems almost minuscule by comparison.

Poizner also has hired a roster of highly paid Washington, D.C.-based consultants, and the firm of his chief media strategist has collected $17.5 million to date. Poizner's campaign manager, Jim Bognet, saw his salary jump from $18,000 to $25,000 a month in February.

Poizner's campaign finance reports do not break out most individual salaries, however, making it difficult to compare with Whitman's.

Meanwhile, Brown is running lean. The attorney general and former governor has relied on unpaid volunteers and finally hired campaign manager Steven Glazer, who is now making $15,000 a month after working for free much of last year.

Brown has spent just $400,000 so far this year - about $4,400 on budget-friendly Southwest Airlines - and has banked $20.6 million from fundraising efforts.

He has said he is saving his resources for what undoubtedly will be a costly general election run.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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