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Unions get head start in taking on Meg Whitman [updated]

April 26, 2010 | 11:32 am

Labor unions have long accounted for the Democratic Party's ground troops in political campaigns. Their ability to reach members and get workers to the polls has been part of the reason Democrats have enjoyed such electoral success in California over the last decade.

This year, spooked by the possibility of running against a multimillionaire or billionaire Republican in the governor's race, Democrat-friendly unions have started communicating their message earlier than ever. Already, 150,000 fliers have been distributed at union job sites accusing former EBay chief Meg Whitman of being bad for California workers.

One such flier promoted a new labor-funded website, "Wall Street Whitman." The flier, and the website accuses Whitman of plotting "a hostile takeover attempt of California," part of the unions' efforts to paint Whitman as a Wall Street bogeyman.

Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei pointed out Brown's own Goldman ties to try to mute the union's attack. "Jerry Brown is the only candidate in this race who renewed a big money deal for Wall Street that’s costing California taxpayers millions of dollars while Goldman Sachs is continuing to pocket the cash," she said. "The entrenched labor unions are hopelessly trying to make this an issue, because Jerry Brown can’t. He’s neck deep in a terrible financing deal that directly involved his administration in Oakland and his sister’s municipal finance practice at Goldman Sachs.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford said Whitman's campaign "is continuing to deflect news about Goldman Sachs in an effort to hide Meg Whitman's deep and long-standing entanglement" with the firm.

Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the 2.1-million member California Labor Federation, said the current grassroots effort being undertaken by labor represents "a ground game that nobody's ever seen before."

Pulaski says he is working in consultation with Democratic strategist Larry Grisolano and others to help target new voters. Grisolano is also the consultant for California Working Families, a union-backed independent expenditure that has promised to spend millions on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. Pulaski refers to the committee as "the big IE."

"We know we cannot compete with her on money or airtime," Pulaski said of Whitman's advertising budget. "But she cannot compete with us on the ground campaign."

Pulaski says his group is getting an early start this year. "Typically, we start this kind of activity in July. But Meg Whitman has started so early, we've realized she should not be the only person defining who she is."

"This is of high-level importance to us," Pulaski said. "She wants to bring Wall Street to Sacramento. That's the most dangerous thing about her."

-- Anthony York