Meg Whitman's Money Couldn't Buy an Election

The California gubernatorial candidate spent record amounts of her own money but lost to Jerry Brown.

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BY Philip Caulfield


DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER What does $160 million buy? A lot, probably. You can get an entire college at Princeton with a cool $30 mil.

Turns out that's a bargain-basement deal compared to the cost of second best in California, as Meg Whitman discovered last night.

The former eBay CEO lost the California governor's race to Democrat Jerry Brown, and she drew boos from supporters at a glum gathering in Universal City when she said she had finally conceded and her campaign was over.

[Read more about the 2010 elections.]

"Tonight has not turned out quite as we had hoped," Whitman said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We've come up a little short, but certainly not for lack of hard work, determination and a clear vision for making our state better."

Nor a lack of cash. Whitman had hoped that her astonishing personal fortune and sparkling corporate résumé would be enough to push her into the governor's mansion, and she shattered campaign spending records by pouring $140 million of her own money into her run for governor.

That personal sum topped the previous record of $109 million, spent by Michael Bloomberg in his run for New York City mayor in 2009.

She ran a lavish juggernaut that many state pundits said had the sophistication of a presidential race, complete with chartered jets, fund-raisers held at posh Beverly Hills hotels and a fat Rolodex of six-figure consultants.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.]

At the GOP state convention in Santa Clara in March, Whitman bought an entire television channel at the convention's host hotel for the weekend.

During her two-year campaign, she carpet-bombed the airwaves and television stations with ads targeting women voters, Latinos, undecided Democrats and independents.

But none of it was enough to topple 72-year-old Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown, who captured nearly 54% of the vote despite a tight budget and lean staff.

Brown, the state's governor from 1975 to 1983 and also a former mayor of Oakland, claimed victory at a raucous rally at the Fox Theater in that city, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"It looks like I'm going back again," Brown said. "As you know, I've got the know-how and the experience."

Brown's election Tuesday comes 28 years after his last term ended. He now has been elected to the position three times, with prior wins in 1974 and 1978, and is now both the youngest and the oldest person to be elected governor in the state's modern history.

[See photos from the campaign trail.]

For much of last year, Whitman appeared to be at the vanguard of political neophytes across the country set to win public office amid GOP backlash and independent voters' disappointment with President Obama's first two years.

But the 54-year-old billionaire was battered in the press after a variety of missteps, including recent rape allegations against her son, the sketchy employment status of a former housekeeper, her own spotty voting record and the increasingly vitriolic tone of her attacks on Brown.

In late October, Gawker reported that Whitman's son, Griffith Harsh, was accused of raping a classmate four years ago while he was a student at Princeton.

The rape story came as Whitman's campaign was still reeling from allegations from a former housekeeper who had said that she had worked for Whitman despite being an illegal immigrant and that Whitman had known about her undocumented status.

[Read about immigration reform.]

Whitman also received criticism after The Sacramento Bee published a report in 2009 that revealed she had not voted in 28 years and was not a registered voter until 2002.

Whitman admitted that her voting record was spotty, calling her lack of participation "inexcusable."

Brown's campaign was not without controversy. He had annoyed supporters by refusing to campaign last spring and summer in order to conserve the majority of his $35 campaign budget for the fall, when he insisted voters would be paying attention.

That annoyance grew into outrage in October when one of his aides was inadvertently recorded calling Whitman a "whore" on a voicemail machine.