A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

California Dreaming

Much of an attack on Meg Whitman by her GOP primary opponent is wrong or misleading.


Steve Poizner, who’s running in California’s GOP gubernatorial primary, has launched an attack on front-runner Meg Whitman, accusing her of not being sufficiently Republican. But several of his claims are off the mark.

  • Whitman has never voiced support for “amnesty” for illegal aliens, however the term is defined, or for President Obama’s position on this issue.
  • There’s no reason to think that there will be a “skyrocketing cost under Obamacare” for emergency care for illegal immigrants, and the new law offers them no other benefits. Besides, Whitman has said she’d encourage the state attorney general to try to block the law.
  • Whitman didn’t “refuse to vote Republican.” She simply didn’t vote in many elections over the last several decades, a record she admits is “atrocious.”
  • It’s true that Whitman supports taxpayer funding of abortions. But in 2004, Poizner did too, saying so on a Planned Parenthood questionnaire.

Two of the ad’s other claims are fair hits. Whitman both contributed to and campaigned for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 1994, and in September 2008 she advised then-presidential candidate John McCain to support the bank bailout.


Ouch. This ad by Republican businessman Steve Poizner, who hopes to win his party’s gubernatorial primary in California, is aimed at the GOP base and questions whether former eBay CEO Meg Whitman — currently leading in the polls —  is "your kind of Republican." The attack skewers her on immigration, health care, her voting record and abortion, likening her to both President Obama and state GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s considered too moderate by some in the party.

Immigration Interpretations

The ad says that Whitman "supports Obama’s amnesty for illegal aliens" and "will continue taxpayer-funded benefits to illegals." The first claim is wrong. The second is true, at least in part.

[TET ]

Steve Poizner Ad: "Deserve"

Announcer: Is Meg Whitman your kind of Republican? She supports Obama’s amnesty for illegal aliens. Like Schwarzenegger, will continue taxpayer-funded benefits to illegals. A skyrocketing cost under Obamacare. For 28 years Whitman refused to vote Republican. But she contributed to, and campaigned, for Barbara Boxer. Like Boxer, Whitman supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Whitman even supported the disastrous bank bailout. After Arnold, don’t we deserve a Republican?


"Amnesty" is a loaded word. Some conservatives apply it generally to any measure that would result eventually in citizenship for the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. But we know of nobody with a serious chance of winning a high-profile office who supports a true amnesty for unlawful immigrants, which would mean giving them a blanket pardon for their immigration violations. The same is true of President Obama. He supports an approach in which those here illegally would need to register, pay taxes and pay a fine for breaking the law in order to get on a path to citizenship.

Whitman’s position has at times been confusing. On the one hand, at a debate in March, she said that "we can’t talk about any other solutions" to the problem of illegal immigrants beyond beefed-up border security, employer enforcement and ending "sanctuary cities." Last May, she said that "we have to prosecute illegal aliens and criminal illegal aliens in all of our cities, in every part of California." And in a recent op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, she voiced her opposition to "amnesty."

Whitman: While I am a strong proponent of legal immigration, I am 100 percent opposed to granting amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally. It is the wrong policy for California, it is the wrong policy for America, and it is grossly unfair to those immigrants who have followed the law to obtain legal status.

Her Web site, too, says, "Meg is 100 percent opposed to any form of amnesty." She hasn’t said exactly how she defines the word.

But last October, during a visit to the southern border, Whitman had a softer tone:

Whitman, Oct. 28: Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization?

The former executive apparently didn’t answer her own question. Shortly after that comment, she told a mostly Latino audience that she supported "comprehensive immigration reform" – a term that is often applied to the type of path to legalization that Obama favors. However, Whitman’s press aide said recently that she was referring only to a temporary guest worker program.

So Whitman’s views on how to deal with illegal immigrants have been a bit muddy. Still, we have found no record that she has ever voiced actual support for the type of approach favored by Obama and being considered in the House and Senate by such lawmakers as Sens. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, and Chuck Schumer, the Democrat from New York – whether or not one calls it "amnesty."

Poizner’s ad is right, however, when it says Whitman would keep "taxpayer-funded benefits" for those who are in the U.S. illegally, at least some of them. Whitman said in her L.A. Times op-ed that she is "opposed to cutting off public education and healthcare services to immigrant children" and she has consistently said that she would have voted against Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative designed to keep illegal immigrants from using public education and health care services in California, for that reason. (Children who are born in the U.S. are automatically citizens, even if their parents are here illegally, so it would not have affected them.)


Apparently referring to "taxpayer-funded benefits to illegals," the ad says this would be "a skyrocketing cost under Obamacare." But there’s no evidence to that effect. The new health care law provides no additional benefits to illegal immigrants. It explicitly says they would not be eligible for subsidies to help buy insurance.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Section 1412(d): NO FEDERAL PAYMENTS FOR INDIVIDUALS NOT LAWFULLY PRESENT.—Nothing in this subtitle or the amendments made by this subtitle allows Federal payments, credits, or cost-sharing reductions for individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

There continue to be laws on the books that require hospitals to treat any severely ill person that comes in the door. But there’s no reason to think that the cost of treating illegal immigrants in the emergency room will "skyrocket" because of the new law.

On screen, the ad cites a Bloomberg News story about how state Medicaid costs will increase under the new health law, and that’s true. But it has nothing to do with illegal immigrants, who are barred from receiving Medicaid. And more important, while the ad might imply that Whitman supports the law, she said recently that she’d "strongly encourage" California’s attorney general to go to court to try to block it, as some other state attorneys general have.

"Refused to Vote Republican?"

The ad’s claim that Whitman "refused to vote Republican" for 28 years is false. What’s true is that she failed to vote at all in many elections; Whitman calls her own voting record "atrocious." That’s very different, though, from refusing to vote for any one party’s candidates.

According to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee, Whitman was registered to vote, but didn’t, in Ohio from 1979 to 1981. She registered as a Republican in September 1982 in San Francisco, and says she remembers voting in the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections; according to the Bee, the voting records from that period are unavailable.

She briefly registered as a "decline-to-state" voter, giving no party designation, in Santa Clara County in 1999, then re-registered as a "decline-to-state" in San Mateo in 2002. "Records show she then missed half the local, state and federal elections held until 2007," the Bee reported. Whitman registered as a Republican in 2007 and voted four times in 2008 statewide and presidential elections, and also voted in a 2009 statewide special election.

"Taxpayer-funded abortion"

"Like [Democratic Sen. Barbara] Boxer, Whitman supports taxpayer-funded abortion," the ad says. And that’s true. Whitman is not only pro-choice, but she supports public funding because, "As long as abortion is legal, it has to be made available to women of all means," she has said.

But the ad could just as easily have said, "Like Poizner in 2004, Whitman supports taxpayer-funded abortion." Poizner received a 100 percent rating from a Planned Parenthood group in California the year he was running for the state Assembly and said on his questionnaire from the group that he supported government funding of abortions. But in this election, he sent out an e-mail announcing the members of his "Values Voters Coalition" and said that "Steve Poizner is the only Republican candidate for governor who is against taxpayer-funded abortions."

Box-ed In and Bailed Out

On two counts, Poizner’s ad is in the clear. It’s true that Whitman "contributed to, and campaigned for, Sen. Barbara Boxer." Whitman gave $4,000 to Boxer for her 1994 reelection campaign. And while Whitman didn’t go out on the stump or knock on doors, she did sign an open letter appealing for support for Boxer from the state’s technology sector, calling her a "dynamic and courageous" leader on behalf of the industry. That counts as campaigning in our book.

And Whitman was in favor of the bank bailout in 2008, just as the ad says, though whether the bailout was "disastrous" is certainly a matter of opinion. At a February meeting of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Whitman explained her advice to then-presidential candidate John McCain during the September 2008 financial meltdown:

Whitman, Feb. 25: I was working on John McCain’s campaign and Mitt Romney was one of the advisors on the campaign when Wall Street melted down, as you recall, about September 15th of 2008. And we convened a meeting of the senior economic advisors and in the end we actually all agreed that the plan to invest capital into the banks was the right thing to do, and what was — It’s very easy with 20/20 hindsight to look back and say, gee, was that the right thing? I think we would all look back now and maybe say, I don’t know that that was the right thing. At the time, it was everyone in that room’s best judgment, that if we decided to let these banks go, that the American economy was literally looking into an abyss.

The Republican primary is set for June 8.

— by Viveca Novak


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