Political oversight agency rules against Whitman

So, now we know that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown can exhort his labor friends to help him out — and even ask them to attack his opponents! — without fear of legal reprisals.

The Fair Political Practices Commission ruled against Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s campaign Monday, which had claimed that Brown had coordinated political maneuvers with the independent expenditure committee, Level the Playing Field 2010.

The Whitman team thought Brown had been caught in the act when video surfaced of him telling a gathering of labor supporters, “We are going to attack whenever we can. But I would rather have you attack. I would rather be the nice guy in this race.”

Whitman’s attorney, Tom Hiltachk, included the clip of Brown’s comments in a followup to his original complaint, which had complained that past assocations between Brown and several members of Level the Playing Field amounted to illegal coordination.

But FPPC political reform consultant Adrianne Korchmaros, in a terse ruling, said there was “insufficient evidence on the complaint, and continues to be insufficient evidence despite subsequent additional information provided by the complainant, to support this allegation.”

She said that FPPC regulations provide “safe harbor” to candidates who, in a non-specific way, ask for support.

The candidate would lose that “safe harbor” if he discussed details of how money might be spent with an independent expenditure group prior to the expenditure, she wrote.


“Requesting that audience members attack his opponent does not rise to the level of providing details regarding a future communication,” she wrote. “Further, a supporter of a candidate does not have her ability to make an independent expenditure stripped away merely because she was an audience member at an event where the candidate exhorted her to support him.”

Chris Lehane, chief strategist with Level the Playing Field, called the ruling a victory against “Nixon-style” politics.

“They want to intimidate folks from speaking against her,” Lehane said. “This was a window into Queen Meg’s character and a glimpse of how she would be as governor. If someone challenges her, she’ll do everything to intimidate them.”

Lehane said Whitman should pay the cost of the investigation, which he called frivolous.

Tucker Bounds, Whitman’s deputy campaign manager, said the ruling will provide a benefit to the public.

“As a result of our filing, Team Brown will now be outwardly advertising exactly which unions are propping them up — and that’s a victory,” Bounds said. “The truth is these groups are attacking Meg in order to elect their guy Jerry Brown and preserve the unions’ stranglehold on Sacramento. That’s a fact that isn’t going to be lost on anyone.”

Steven Harmon