With more than a month before the November elections, California gubernatorial candidates and special interest groups have already spent millions bolstering or tearing down the candidates.
Former EBay CEO Meg Whitman's campaign has spent more than $110 million, and is hitting the air waves hard with television spots depicting her Democratic opponent, California Attorney General and former governor of the state, Jerry Brown, as a tax and spend democrat.
“CNN not me. CNN says that his assertion about his tax record is just plain wrong,” claims former President Bill Clinton in file footage the Whitman campaign pulled to use in an attack ad. “Jerry Brown went out there and took credit that the people of California went out and voted for Prop 13 and lowered taxes which he opposed and now he is going and taking credit. He raised taxes as governor of California. He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He does not tell the people the truth.”
“I think that it was brilliant on the part of Whitman to use Bill Clinton to attack Jerry Brown as opposed to Whitman attacking Jerry Brown,” remarks Robert Stern with the non-partisan group, The Center for Governmental Studies.
“But the ad was based on something that was false. What is true is that Prop 13 passed in 1978 and Jerry Brown was against it until it passed and then he became a born again tax cutter. What we do know is the legislature had to backfill for Prop 13 and had to raise money to pay local jurisdictions like schools, so taxes did go up to a certain extent to pay for that,” Stern adds.
Stretching the truth is not a strategy unique to the Whitman campaign. Special interest groups in the Golden State have shelled out millions of their own dollars to paint a dark picture of Whitman's record while at EBay:
“Overhead spending up two thousand percent, fees hiked 6 times in 6 years. Huge losses from failed mergers and, after she resigned, the new CEO cut Whitman’s bloated spending and lowered fees,” says one spot, paid for by California for Working Families, a group backed by organized labor and liberal organizations.
“I think that the ad making Meg Whitman look like a spendthrift is just ridiculous. Obviously she started with a small company and obviously the company spent a lot more money when she left. She ran a very successful company. I think that is not a very good ad,” says Stern who believes this ad is not believable to most voters.
But whether voters are able to recognize the truth in political ads, is immaterial in a close election, say other political experts.
“Ninety percent of positive ads are unmemorable and probably get less credit with voters than the negative ads,” says Susan Estrich, a Fox News Contributor and professor at the University of Southern California Law School.