NYT Wonders About Whitman’s “Business Decision”

The New York Times’s Michael Luo reports that, in 2008, California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman invested some $1 million in the fledgling film production company of Mike Murphy, a well-known GOP strategist who was “flirting” with working for Whitman’s primary opponent, Steve Poizner. In 2009, Murphy became a “senior adviser” to Whitman’s campaign (which earned him $665,000 “for his first six months.”)

Why’d Whitman do that? The $1 million investment? Luo goes about “divining,” as the headline to the piece has it:

The timing of the investment and its unusual nature — Ms. Whitman lists no other holdings in the world of independent movie production — raise some questions about its ultimate purpose: Was it strictly a business decision, or part of an effort to ensure that a coveted political strategist did not work for the competition? Or perhaps a way to sweeten the pot so he would eventually sign on with the right team?

Strictly a business decision, Whitman’s campaign spokesperson Tucker Bounds seems to say. Something more, suggests Poizner adviser Michael J. Schroeder, (and two others who requested anonymity for fear of “reprisals from Whitman supporters”).

Luo goes on to explain—I’m not picking on Meg Whitman

What makes all this of interest beyond the give-and-take of California politics is that Ms. Whitman, one of the country’s most visible and successful executives, is part of a bumper crop of self-financed, superrich candidates in races across the country, from Rick Scott and Jeff Greene in Florida to Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Carly Fiorina in California.

How such wealthy candidates might use their fortunes to manipulate the electoral process is a crucial question in all of these races. Indeed, if Ms. Whitman’s investment were part of an effort to keep Mr. Murphy focused on show business instead of working for her prospective opponent…

And I’m not saying it was

…it would not be the first time that a rich candidate had used a personal fortune to sap the competition of talent. Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City’s billionaire mayor, for instance, made sure to snap up a platoon of top Democratic and Republican operatives early on in his most recent re-election bid.

Another not-picking-on-Whitman reason for reporting this? It happened in California. Lots of people (and prestige) live there.

And, of course, a race for governor of California, home to nearly one in eight Americans, is not a garden-variety election, given the money and the prestige involved, not to mention the potential springboard to higher, national office.

It’s good to see the Times is on to the “bumper crop” of “superrich” candidates this election season, and has identified as a “crucial question” “how these candidates might use their fortunes to manipulate the electoral process” (not that they’re saying that’s what Whitman did). Hopefully the Times will continue to raise (and, when possible, answer) this question.

Confession: I was distracted by this bit in the piece:

Murphy has long harbored Hollywood aspirations… [He} recently sold a script to HBO for a show on political consultants that is in development but has not yet been greenlighted, HBO says.

K Street Focus Group. A new series from the network that brought you Entourage. (And from, I guess, Meg Whitman.)

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.