That’s the very first line of the autobiography of billionaire Meg Whitman, candidate for the Republican nomination for California governor. She paints herself as the ethical candidate: “No playing things loose or close to the edge. We were going to do things the right way.” That’s an unnamed eBay executive talking in a campaign ad about working for Whitman back then. When Forbes Magazine did a 2007 cover story on Whitman they enthused, “Ebay’s Meg Whitman built a retail leviathan without sacrificing her customers, shareholders or ethics.”
But politicians claiming they’re particularly ethical are like gangsters shouting, “Come and get me, copper.” The press, like the cops, usually accepts the challenge, a la John Edwards, Gary Hart, Eliot Spitzer, and others.
If you watch television in California you already know about Whitman’s ethics, displayed in $60 million worth of the skuzziest campaign ads imaginable. But her hyper-negative campaign against fellow Republican Steve Poizner isn’t the most interesting thing about Whitman’s campaign.
Try googling “Meg Whitman ethics.” It turns up 48,800 entries. There are the articles about her sweetheart deal with Goldman Sachs, in which she moved the banking business of eBay, which she headed, to Goldman Sachs in return for the inside track on an initial public stock offering (IPO) in which she made a quick $1.78 million. When eBay shareholders sued she agreed to give her ill-gotten gains back to the company. She had a three part defense: It wasn’t illegal. (Although the SEC has a different opinion.) It wasn’t much money to me. It’s old news.
A congressional report stated that the Goldman IPO was just one of hundreds of sweetheart deals Goldman cut Whitman in on in exchange for eBay’s banking business. The Los Angeles Times detailed several more of her ethically challenged activities, including investing in a “distressed asset” fund that made its money foreclosing on victims of Hurricane Katrina, and heading a company that allegedly stole trade secrets from Craigslist.com.
The bar for ethical behavior in California politics is set pretty low, but Whitman is managing to lower it.
Tags: California governor, campaign ads, Craigslist.com, eBay, Eliot Spitzer, ethics, Forbes Magazine, Gary Hart, Goldman Sachs, Hurricane Katrina, IPO, John Edwards, Los Angeles Times, Meg Whitman, Republican nomination, Steve Poizner