Jerry Brown has stayed above the fray on MaidGate (coined right here, folks; you’re welcome to it) while allowing the harsh glare of scrutiny to scald his GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, the billionaire ex-CEO of eBay.
It’s a classic response to a controversy saddling one’s opponent. You don’t want to get in the way of a good hanging. Still, there are ways to draft off the winds of controversy, such as releasing a TV ad that furthers the narrative of the controversy, which is that Whitman’s character is in doubt.
So, finally, Brown reprises the Goldman Sachs meme, which had such a strong run in the primary and boosted Whitman’s GOP primary opponent Steve Poizner’s chances before he ran out of money.
It’s a simple ad that reminds voters that Whitman had gained from initial public offering (IPO) of Goldman Sachs stock that was later deemed by a Congressional committee to be unethical, requiring her to return more than $1 million to eBay shareholders.
The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik had perhaps the best description of the world of IPOs and Whitman’s place in it:
Whitman was among an elite group of favored executives who had accepted preferential stock deals from Goldman Sachs while it was seeking business from their companies.
In spinning, executives would typically get shares in coveted initial public stock offerings, which they would “spin,” or resell, into a soaring market, usually within days and sometimes within hours. Their quick and almost entirely risk-free profits were effectively gifts, and the investment banks the givers.
Whitman attempted to dodge responsibility for her actions by claiming that there was “nothing illegal” about them at the time. (This is rather at odds with a credo appearing on page 130 of her book: “Be accountable.”)
The Brown ad is unabashedly populist, going right at the outrage that many voters have toward the wealthy who took excessive salaries at the expense of workers (she was paid $120 million, the ad says, just before eBay laid off 10 percent of the workforce).
Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera calls the $120 million claim an “outright lie,” insisting she was paid only $713,947 in 2008, after taking a salary of $995,016 for each of the previous two years.
But salaries are rarely the true measure of a CEO’s net worth in their rarified world of dividends, stocks and bonuses. Forbes Magazine, in September, 2008, and the New York Times, reported that Whitman received a $120.4 million, in salary, bonus and the value of her excercised options in her final year, despite eBay’s stock plummeting 49 percent.
Here’s the ad, and remember it’s playing right in the middle of Whitman’s troubles over how she allegedly treated her fomer maid, whom she fired in 2009 (just as she was ramping up her gubernatorial campaign) after allegedly just learning that she was an undocumented worker. According to the former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, Whitman told her: “You have never seen me and I have never seen you. You understand me?”