The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jerry Brown is spending more on ballot measures than on his own campaign

Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, thank supporters for their work on his temporary tax hike initiative, Proposition 30, during an election night party in Sacramento on Nov. 6, 2012. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
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California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is confident he will be reelected to an unprecedented fourth term in office. He is so convinced by poll numbers showing him leading the race that he’s spending more of his money on advertisements for two ballot measures than on his own campaign.

Brown’s campaign reported spending more than $3.3 million on advertisements for Propositions 1 and 2, measures placed on November’s ballot by the state legislature. Campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office shows Brown has spent only $500,000 on consultants, office space, insurance and other necessities on his own behalf — and he hasn’t run a single television advertisement this year.

Both ballot measures could cement Brown’s legacy long after he leaves office. Proposition 1 is a water bond that would invest $7.1 billion on things like water storage and recycling, watershed management and loans to regional water management projects.

Proposition 2 would create new rainy day funds aimed at capturing excess revenue in boom years to help the state weather economic downturns. The state would save 1.5 percent of general fund revenue and a higher percentage of capital gains taxes until the rainy day fund equals 10 percent of the state’s general fund (This year, that would have been about $15 billion).

Brown’s third term, which he won in 2010 in the midst of the great recession, was marred by deep cuts he and the legislature had to make to account for a $15 billion hole in the state budget. Even after the state returned to a surplus, Brown resisted calls from liberals in the state legislature to restore some of the cuts to valuable social programs.

“The idea that you’d take this little bitty surplus and go on this big spending spree strikes me as odd,” Brown told The Washington Post in an interview this year. “I think that kind of ping-pong budgeting, where first you ping and then you pong, makes no sense.”

Polls show Brown running away with a fourth term: A Public Policy Institute of California survey released this week shows Brown leading his Republican opponent, former Bush administration official Neel Kashkari, by a 52 percent to 36 percent margin (the same poll showed 58 percent of California voters support Proposition 1, and 49 percent support Proposition 2).

Kashkari has far outspent Brown on television. Data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity shows he’s aired more than $2 million in TV ads. Earlier this week, Kashkari donated an additional $1 million to his own campaign, despite the public polling data.

Brown could easily swamp Kashkari: Filings show he’s got more than $20 million in the bank. But he said last week that he has no plans to spend that money. Instead, he told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to use his war chest to fund ballot measures in future, to mitigate any loss of power he might experience as he heads into what’s likely to be his final term in office.

“I do think having a credible war chest will overcome whatever infirmities lame-duck governors might ordinarily suffer from,” Brown told The Times.

To underscore the confidence he feels, Brown is taking time off the campaign trail this week, even as California voters begin casting ballots. On Thursday, Brown left California for Connecticut, where he will attend a 50th reunion of his Yale Law School class.