Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman wrapped up a week of fundraising Friday with help from some big GOP names while facing protests about the amount of money she is spending on her quest for California's highest office.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney joined Whitman at a donors-only luncheon in Sacramento, where tickets started at $1,000 and went up to $25,900. In the evening, Whitman was scheduled to end her weeklong fundraising tour at a gala in Redwood City with Romney, former GOP presidential nominee John McCain and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The Sacramento event, held at the exclusive Sutter Club near the state Capitol, attracted about 100 protesters organized by the California Nurses Association.
The union says the billionaire candidate, who already has given her campaign $59 million from her personal fortune, wants to buy her way into office and crown herself queen of California. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, has said she is willing to spend $150 million on her campaign, in addition to the money she can raise from donors.
The nurses union and other labor groups support Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democrats' presumed nominee, whose campaign is benefiting from independent groups funded in large part by labor unions.
Outside the Sutter Club, an actress from Los Angeles who was recruited to play "Queen Meg" wore a red velvet crown, emerged in royal costume from a Rolls Royce and handed out Monopoly money.
Many of the protesters wore blond wigs similar to Whitman's hair style and held signs designed to look like Whitman's campaign posters but showed piles of money and a crown: "Queen Meg: Rich enough to rule! 2010," read one.
Another criticized her plan to cut the state work force by 40,000 employees.
Shirley Toy, 51, a nurse who works at the University of California, Davis Medical Center, said she wasn't sure whether she would be one of those 40,000 workers.
Toy said she has been turned off by Whitman's spending so far in the campaign, which started months ago and has given her a constant presence on television.
She said Whitman's personal wealth is another example of the stratification of American society in which the rich accumulate more wealth while the middle class shrinks and the ranks of the poor grow.
"It's a bad taste in my mouth," Toy said of Whitman's spending and fundraising.
The governor's office does not have direct authority over hiring in the UC or California State University systems, but Whitman's campaign said she wants to work with both chancellors to look for ways to cut the support and administrative staffs.
Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, who attended the fundraiser, said Whitman focused on her campaign message of downsizing state government. The protesters' attacks calling her an out-of-touch billionaire won't resonate, because in person, she is genuine and warm, he said.
Whitman faces another Silicon Valley multimillionaire, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, in the June 8 Republican primary.
After blanketing the television and radio airwaves for months, Whitman surged ahead of Poizner, who says her lead has narrowed in recent weeks as he began his own advertising blitz.
Whitman's fundraising tour de force this week included an Irvine event in which she was joined by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and an event Thursday with Romney in Beverly Hills.
At the same time, unions are stepping up their fundraising and media efforts on behalf of Brown in anticipation of a general election campaign that is expected to set a spending record.
On Monday, the California Labor Federation will start distributing 150,000 anti-Whitman fliers at work sites around the state, federation spokesman Steve Smith said.
He said labor groups are launching an earlier and more aggressive campaign this year than in previous gubernatorial races because Whitman's enormous wealth gives her a virtually unlimited campaign budget.
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