Meg Whitman fuels big-spending California governor's race

Meg Whitman has announced she's contributing another $20 million to her gubernatorial campaign. The California governor's race could become the priciest gubernatorial election in US history.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman speaks at the California Taxpayers' Association annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif. on March 23. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, is being challenged in the Republican primary by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
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The governor's race in California is on track to become America’s priciest gubernatorial election in history. Other statewide races in the US are also expected to break spending records in the coming year.

While the cost of state campaigns has been climbing into the nine-digit territory for years now, November’s contests could attract even more contributions, as Republican and Democratic donors are eager for their parties to hold sway over redistricting after the 2010 Census.

In California, a state where politics is almost always a costly endeavor, two wealthy Republicans are pushing the Golden State toward record-breaking levels.

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IN PICTURES: Who paid most to run for governor

Meg Whitman, the billionaire former eBay CEO who is vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, announced Tuesday that she is contributing another $20 million to her campaign. That brings the total amount she has given to $59 million.

She has reportedly committed to spending $150 million on her bid to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Ms. Whitman's competition in the June Republican primary, has spent $19 million of his own money.

Both Ms. Whitman and Mr. Poizner, also a former Silicon Valley executive, have financially walloped likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, the state’s attorney general and a former two-term governor.

Mr. Brown, who has a reported $14 million in his campaign chest, hasn’t needed to spend much because he doesn't have any major competition for the Democratic nomination. But he has called on labor unions and other Democratic activists to assist in his run against either one of the wealthy Republicans.

With the numbers added together, California seems well on its way to besting New York’s $148 million 2002 gubernatorial race – the current recordholder in the United States.

“California is almost always expensive in every way,” says Denise Roth Barber, research director at the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The state typically leads the US in political spending during big election years.

But, Ms. Barber also says, the institute is seeing an increased level of contributions coming from statewide candidates in other parts of the US. Overall, during gubernatorial races in 2002, candidates contributed a total of $242 million to their campaigns.

Whitman's personal contributions have already beat state records. But even if she spends $150 million in pursuit of the governor's office, she will not top the estimated $250 million that Michael Bloomberg has spent on three bids for mayor of New York City. According to The New York Times, Mr. Bloomberg has spent more money seeking office than has any other US politician.

For Whitman, the big spending appears to be paying off: She has leapt ahead of Brown in recent polls. According to a March Field Poll, Whitman jumped 17 points since October to gain a slight edge over Brown. In the same poll, she led her Republican rival by 49 points.

Political analysts say that Whitman has been paying top dollar for consultants and advertising campaigns in an effort to increase her name recognition since this is her first political campaign. Critics, however, say she is attempting to use her personal fortune to buy the election.

California is not the only one establishing new state records for gubernatorial campaigns: The most recent governor's races in Virginia, Delaware, and Texas all broke state spending records.

IN PICTURES: Who paid most to run for governor

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