Political consultants gathered for a recent meeting in Sacramento debated whether Meg Whitman's personal fortune would matter to voters in this year's governor's race.
They were in complete agreement, however, on one point: Her Democratic rival Jerry Brown will keep bringing it up. In doing so he risks a certain counterpunch: Brown, the Democratic nominee, has enjoyed some of the same advantages of wealth and power for which he criticizes Whitman.
He invested money in a tax shelter and sat on a corporate board. He accepted free memberships to exclusive clubs and a Gold Pass to a less exclusive one, Disneyland. He lives in a $1.8 million house.
Neither of the candidates has released copies of their tax returns, and it's impossible to say just how much they are worth. But as a longtime public figure, Brown has left a trail that provides a picture of his standard of living.
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Although he's clearly not in Whitman's financial league, the average Californian would consider him wealthy. "Jerry Brown did not grow up in a little log cabin," Claremont McKenna College government professor Jack Pitney said.
At a recent meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, the moderator of the morning's first panel joked that Brown "apparently couldn't afford a bus ticket to send a staffer over here from Oakland," instead introducing former Clinton administration spokesman Chris Lehane.
Lehane, with the pro-Brown group Level the Playing Field 2010, said voters' anti-incumbent sentiment this year is a reflection of a broader, anti-establishment mood. In such an environment, he said, "coming from corporate America is the equivalent of being an obscene word."
Whitman, the former eBay CEO, is a billionaire. Lehane suggested Brown exploit it.
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