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Leaders of the independent expenditure committee California Working Families said in a media conference call this afternoon that they will take a "less visible" role in the governor's race going forward after spending $8.7 million running TV, radio and online ads attacking Republican candidate Meg Whitman.

The union-backed committee went on air the week after the June 8 primary and ran several spots slamming Whitman for her record as CEO of the online auction firm eBay and her poor voting record. Whitman, a billionaire who has invested $104 million of her own money in her campaign, has been running paid advertising for nearly a year now.

Democrat Jerry Brown hasn't run any paid advertising yet but has promised to get more active after Labor Day.

California Working Families' coalition includes a variety of labor and liberal activist groups.

Bob Balgenorth, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of California, said the committee had accomplished its goal: Keeping the governor's race tied in the polls and not ceding the summer to Whitman. The committee now expected Brown to start running his own ads.

Balgenorth and Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters, said they were stepping down as co-chairs of the committee.

"California Working Families set out to keep Meg Whitman from running away with this campaign, and I think we accomplished that," Balgenorth said.

Paulson said the committee aimed to prevent a repeat of the 2006 governor's race, when Democratic candidate Phil Angelides slipped in the polls as Arnold Schwarzenegger hammered him with ads over the summer.

"We needed to focus on filling the gap during the summer months to prevent Whitman from doing to Jerry Brown what Arnold did to Phil," Paulson said. "Meg Whitman has not only failed to build any kind of lead, but her negatives have gone through the roof."

Although the committee was publicly stepping out of the ring Wednesday, its leaders threatened to get back in the fight if the need arises.

"I give (Brown) the benefit of the doubt moving forward," said Larry Grisolano, a partner with AKPD Media, who helped coordinate the committee's media strategy. "Having said that, I think that with the resource disparity, there may come a moment in time where we identify an area that simply she's trying to exploit and that simply for lack of resources, he's unable to match where we might jump in."

UPDATE: Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera responded in an e-mail: "This is a charade. The government unions announce they are taking their ads down while Jerry Brown simultaneously announces that he is launching his first set of ads. It's rock solid proof that there is seamless coordination between what is essentially the same political organization: Jerry Brown and the government unions that control him. What does this kind of coordination get the unions? The answer is: whatever they want. Californians cannot afford more of Sacramento's back room politics and we can't afford Jerry Brown's 3rd term."

A bit of context: State law prohibits the Brown campaign from coordinating with independent expenditure committees. Both Brown and California Working Families have denied coordinating campaign strategies, and the state Fair Political Practices Commission has not indicated that any such coordination exists.


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