Whitman's lavish election spending

Republican billionaire Meg Whitman has attained front-runner status in the race to replace Gov. Schwarzenegger by spending nine times more than her nearest rival on broadcast ads in the first 2½ months of this year.

The glossy production value of her campaign ads aside, her latest campaign finance report offers a peek at the woman who was a political unknown a short time ago, and perhaps provides some insight into how she might govern.

Whitman surrounds herself with aides from eBay, where she was chief executive officer, and from the campaign of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the onetime Massachusetts governor who is her mentor in business and politics.

She also frets about security. Whitman has paid $204,000 to John W. Endert, a former eBay security executive who has a permit to carry firearms and describes himself as experienced in corporate investigations, executive protection and threat mitigation. She categorized the $10,500 per month expenditure as a campaign worker salary.

Whitman paid $3,500 to what she called a "campaign consultant." The recipient, Walsingham Associate Inc., says on its Web site that it specializes in detection of eavesdropping equipment.

Last year, Whitman's campaign paid $20,383 to a company called Western Limited and called the expenditure "polling and survey research." Western Limited describes itself as a private investigations firm that seeks to "solve your case -- whether it is obtaining damaging video, locating the background records that you need, or obtaining a statement that helps you make a claims or business decision."

Whitman has given $39 million of her own money to her campaign, raised $11 million from other donors and spent $46 million -- with seven months left until the general election.

She has hired no fewer than 54 campaign staffers and retained more than 70 consultants as she has built what seems to be an insurmountable lead in the Republican primary against state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Whitman has spent more than twice as much on a single charter jet company, $371,125, than the $144,000 that Democrat Jerry Brown reported spending on his entire campaign so far.

The charter jet company she seems to prefer is ACM Aviation, which boasts on its Web site that it "has been offering white-glove, on-demand, premium jet charter services for more then 28 years."

She holds fund-raisers at high-end venues, spending $20,564 for an event at Bernardus Lodge, "among the oaks and vineyards of scenic Carmel Valley," where guests are invited to "savor the gracious intimacy of a resort with epicurean flair."

Whitman lashes out at state spending as she pays former eBay aide Henry Gomez $36,000 a month to serve on her campaign.

She has spent almost $3.6 million on consulting by Tokoni Inc., a social networking firm co-founded by former eBay executives Mary Lou Song and husband Alex Kazim. The firm says on its Web site that it seeks to create a "global internet community to help people share their first-hand stories and experiences with others through shared stories of interest."

She paid $96,000 to Solamere Capital, a Massachusetts-based firm whose Web site says it "was founded to serve as a multifamily office focusing on superior private equity opportunities."

Solamere's principals include Romney's son Tagg Romney and Spencer J. Zwick, who was prominent in Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Zwick is her finance chair; she has paid his firm, SJZ Inc., $842,000.

Since entering the campaign, Whitman has poured a head-spinning $28 million into radio and television, plus what she has spent on consultants who devise the spots. She paid $495,000 to Mike Murphy's firm, Bonaparte Films LLC.

Her spending is unprecedented even for California, where wealthy candidates such as Michael Huffington, Al Checchi and Steve Westly spent lavishly in failed bids to win statewide office.

"It is going to backfire," Poizner said in an interview. "It becomes distasteful at some point. People starting asking questions, 'What are you trying to compensate for?' "

Lately, Whitman has started to step out from behind her handlers' shield but remains cloistered, at least compared to the far more accessible Poizner and Brown, and to the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate who regularly respond to questions from voters and reporters.

Whitman and her consultants may be betting that California is such a media-driven state that she doesn't need to mingle with the electorate.

But she runs the risk that she will be seen as arrogant and disconnected from the everyday lives of California voters.

Whitman may or may not be down-to-earth. It's hard to know based on the few interviews and news conferences she has held. But judging from her campaign, she is living a very different life than most of us.