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Whitman campaign files complaint against Democratic campaign group

February 18, 2010 |  5:55 pm
Attorneys for Republican Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign have filed a complaint with state election officials against a group of Democrats who launched radio ads this week attacking Whitman.

The filing marks the increased gamesmanship between Whitman's campaign and Democrats supporting Jerry Brown as the race for California governor officially gets underway.

The seven-page complaint, filed Thursday with the Fair Political Practices Commission by Whitman attorney Tom Hiltachk, alleges that Level the Playing Field 2010 is violating state election law by not disclosing the name of it major contributors in ads. The complaint calls Level the Playing Field "a labor union front group," and alleges collusion between the committee and Jerry Brown, the likely Democratic candidate for governor.

"Since the ads are being run primarily on conservative talk radio, it is likely that the labor union funders have decided to intentionally violate the law so as to mislead the targeted audience, who would probably be skeptical about a message from labor unions regarding a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for governor," the complaint reads.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for Level the Playing Field, dismissed the complaint Thursday. "Whitman won’t answer questions or debate her opponents, so it’s no surprise that typical of a billionaire CEO, she’s trotting out the cynical Wall Street tactic of trying to muzzle opponents with a frivolous, fictional, crassly political lawsuit in what is merely her latest attempt to blatantly silence an honest discussion of relevant issues," he said.

The complaint states the committee has mischaracterized itself and is "attempting to avoid numerous disclaimer and disclosure obligations." It also questions just how independent Level the Playing Field is from Brown. They allege that the committee's senior strategist, Ace Smith, and finance director Michelle Maravich, both of whom have worked for Brown in the past "have been presently advising Jerry Brown in connection with his campaign for governor in 2010."

Campaign finance records show that neither Smith's SCN Public Relations nor Maravich Associates LLC has been paid by Brown since 2006.

State campaign finance law states that committees that focus more than 70% of their money for or against one candidate are under different disclosure laws than committees that target more than one candidate. Whitman's campaign alleges Level the Playing Field is simply an anti-Whitman committee, but Newman assured that Republican Steve Poizner would also be a target of the group.

"We certainly reserve the right to challenge the billionaire CEO and the multimillionaire CEO," he said.

Level the Playing Field has not disclosed any contributions with the secretary of state's office. Initial buys of radio air time were made Feb 12. Under campaign finance law, the committee has 10 days to report any contributions of $5,000 or more.

Newman refused to say how much his committee had raised, choosing instead to take another swipe at Whitman. "We have raised less [so far] than the $177 million she paid herself as a corporate CEO while firing California workers. Since she is so clearly rattled by the prospect of not being able to rig the system with her billions, we’ll graciously offer an olive branch and agree to a mutual campaign spending cap at whatever level she chooses."

"We think it is important that everyone trying to persuade voters should play by the rules," said Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei. "The rules require the unions fronting for Jerry Brown to identify themselves to voters so that they can make an informed decision."

Newman had a slightly different take. "It is a howling irony that on the same day Whitman released a radio ad attacking the legal profession, she chose to hide behind a phalanx of high-priced lawyers.

--Anthony York in Sacramento

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