SACRAMENTO -- Political consultants gathered for a recent meeting debated whether Republican Meg Whitman's fortune will 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 counter-punch: 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.
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"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 a Sacramento 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 chief executive officer, is a billionaire. Lehane suggested that Brown exploit it.
To the extent that he is campaigning -- Brown is nowhere on TV -- he is trying to do just that, emphasizing Whitman's Wall Street ties while reinforcing his image as being frugal.
It is a reputation cast during his first two terms as governor, when Brown eschewed a limousine for a Plymouth, rented an apartment by the Capitol and slept on a mattress on the floor.
Free passes to USC, UCLA games
Many Californians recall Brown's apartment. Less well remembered is that he owned a house.
It was on Wonderland Park Drive, in Los Angeles, and if Brown was in the area he had access to certain perks, including free passes to UCLA and USC football games and to National League baseball games, according to a list of gifts Brown reported receiving in his first term in office.
Other gifts included memberships at the World Trade Club in San Francisco and Lakeside Golf Club in Hollywood, a 1975 Gold Pass to Disneyland and a free hang gliding lesson. The mayor of Jerusalem gave Brown a coin from the time of King Herod.
For a politician to accept gifts is neither illegal nor unusual. Nor is it inconsistent for a person who is wealthy to be cheap.
Speaking to reporters a day after the primary election, Brown stood behind a wooden lectern with a cardboard sign taped to it. Southwest Airlines, on which he flies, is his Plymouth Satellite of today.
Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, said the image is authentic.
"The guy's a Subaru," he said, noting that "a lot of Subaru owners go to Paris for their vacations." Brown's criticism of Whitman is reminiscent of 1992, when Brown was a presidential candidate criticizing tax loopholes and what he said were the excesses of corporate executives.
Cabins and land worth six figures
But it was only the previous year that Brown resigned from his post on a corporate board. From 1987 to 1991 he was paid $20,000 a year to sit on the board of directors of drug manufacturer ICN Biomedicals, now MP Biomedicals.
The company belonged to businessman Milan Panic, who remains a political donor to Brown and contributed $51,800 to his primary and general election campaigns this year, the maximum allowed.
In addition to his former position with ICN, Brown in a financial report filed in December 1991 valued at $100,000 to $250,000 land and cabins he owned in Nevada County. He reported an investment in Glenborough Ltd., a real estate partnership.
Regarding that investment, The Washington Post in 1992 reported that Brown had invested $100,000 in Glenborough Court Associates, a registered tax shelter, in 1985. Investors were advised they likely would lose money on real estate investments, reducing their overall tax liability, according to the report. The investment was legal, as Brown told The Post at the time, although he acknowledged that it was the same type of dealing he criticized.
Brown, now the state attorney general, saw his financial interests expand when he married former Gap executive Anne Gust in 2005, reporting investments and stock options in his most recent filings. They own a $1.8 million house in Oakland Hills.
Before his marriage and while mayor of Oakland, Brown's portfolio was slimmer, including interests in a rental property and his home. For income, he listed a "motion picture residual" from Time Warner, although in only one year, 2001, did the payment exceed $1,000.
Brown had played a role in the 1996 comedy "My Fellow Americans." The scene in which he appeared was cut before the movie was released.