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Bill Clinton unwittingly stars in new anti-Brown California ad

The ad from Republican candidate Meg Whitman's campaign uses footage from a 1992 Democratic presidential primary debate in which Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown squared off.

By Juliet WilliamsAssociated Press / September 9, 2010

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown speaks to the media at New Leaf Biofuel in Barrio Logan, Calif. on Aug. 26.

The San Diego Union-Tribune/David Brooks/AP

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SACRAMENTO, Calif.

Former President Bill Clinton is the unwitting star of a TV ad released Thursday in the California governor's race in which he is shown criticizing the record of fellow Democrat Jerry Brown.

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The ad from Republican candidate Meg Whitman's campaign uses footage from a 1992 Democratic presidential primary debate in which Clinton and Brown squared off.

Clinton calls Brown's assertion about his tax record "just plain wrong" and says he took credit for voters approving Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that rolled back and capped property taxes. Brown opposed the measure but embraced it after the election.

"And now he's going around taking credit for it," Clinton says in the clip. "He raised taxes as governor of California. He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He doesn't tell the people the truth."

As governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown built up the state's surplus to $6 billion, but he and the Legislature spent much of it — about $4.2 billion — bailing out local governments and schools after Proposition 13 passed. Their goal was to offset the immediate effects of the lowered property tax revenue.

At the time, the move was praised by tax-cut crusader Howard Jarvis and supported by Republicans in the Legislature.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford called Whitman's ad a "nasty and cynical attack" that distorted his record.

"She can continue to slash at Jerry Brown's record with her fiction. We will continue to respond with the facts," he said.

While some taxes did go up during Brown's tenure, Clifford said he saved Californians $5 billion by indexing the personal income tax to inflation. Brown also eliminated the business inventory tax and cut capital gains taxes for small businesses, Clifford said.

Clinton has had a tense relationship with Brown, who is now the state's attorney general. The former president endorsed Brown's primary opponent, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, last October, about three weeks before Newsom dropped out of the race.

But Brown said last month that his campaign had spoken recently with Clinton officials. When questioned about it, Brown declined to elaborate or say whether an endorsement might be coming.

A spokesman for Clinton did not immediately return telephone and e-mail messages Thursday.

The Clintons remain popular in California. Hillary Clinton won the state's Democratic presidential primary in February 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, compared to 42 percent for the party's eventual nominee, Barack Obama.