Whitman files FPPC complaint over Dems’ ‘Level the Playing Field’

Attorneys for Republican Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign have filed a complaint with state election officials against a group of Democrats who launched radio ads this week attacking Whitman.

The filing marks the increased gamesmanship between Whitman’s campaign and Democrats supporting Jerry Brown as the race for California governor officially gets underway.

The seven-page complaint, filed Thursday with the Fair Political Practices Commission by Whitman attorney Tom Hittachk, alleges that Level the Playing Field 2010 is violating state election law by not disclosing the name of their major contributors in their ads. The complaint calls Level the Playing Field “a labor union front group,” and claims collusion between the committee and Jerry Brown, the likely Democratic candidate for governor.  To see a copy of the complaint, click here.

“Since the ads are being run primarily on conservative talk radio, it is likely that the labor union funders have decided to intentionally violate the law so as to mislead the targeted audience, who would probably be skeptical about a message from labor unions regarding a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for governor,” the complaint reads.

A spokesman for Level the Playing Field, Dan Newman, dismissed the complaint Thursday. “Whitman won’t answer questions or debate her opponents, so it’s no surprise that typical of a billionaire CEO, she’s trotting out the cynical Wall Street tactic of trying to muzzle opponents with a frivolous, fictional, crassly political lawsuit in what is merely her latest attempt to blatantly silence an honest discussion of relevant issues,” he said.

The complaint states the committee has mischaracterized itself and is “attempting to avoid numerous disclaimer and disclosure obligations.” It also questions just how independent Level the Playing Field is from Brown. They allege that the committee’s senior strategist, Ace Smith, and finance director Michelle Maravich, both of whom have worked for Brown in the past “have been presently advising Jerry Brown in connection with his campaign for governor in 2010.”

Campaign finance records show that neither Smith’s SCN Public Relations nor Maravich Associates LLC has been paid by Brown since 2006.

State campaign finance law states committees that focuse more than 70 percent of its money for or against one candidate are under different disclosure laws than committees that target more than one candidate. Whitman’s campaign alleges Level the Playing Field is simply an anti-Whitman committee, but Newman assured that Republican Steve Poizner would also be a target of the group.

“We reserve the right to go after the multi-millionaire, not just the billionaire,” he said.

Level the Playing Field has not disclosed any contributions with the secretary of state’s office. Initial buys of radio air time were made last Friday. Under campaign finance law, the committee has 10 days to report any contributions of $5,000 or more.

“We think it is important that everyone trying to persuade voters should play by the rules,” said Whitman spokesman Sarah Pompei. “The rules require the unions fronting for Jerry Brown to identify themselves to voters so that they can make an informed decision.”

Newman had a slightly different take. “It is a howling irony that on the same day Whitman released a radio ad attacking the legal profession, she chose to hide behind a phalanx of high-priced lawyers.

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