SACRAMENTO "” Calling it "the first open-source opposition research file in history," Democrats targeting Meg Whitman"s gubernatorial bid Monday launched a new Web site "” Wikimeg.com "” where users can freely post critical information about the billionaire ex-CEO of eBay.
And the site"s owners, the labor-funded Level the Playing Field 2010, say there are only two rules: Keep it civil, and keep it factual, citing a source. They say they"ll be checking regularly to make sure everyone"s playing along.
"The power of the online world is the capacity to have a multiplier effect," said Chris Lehane, a leader of the group. "We"re looking to give thousands of people fishing poles." Level the Playing Field has previously pushed for Whitman, front-runner to be the Republican nominee, to release her tax returns and to disclose more information about her use of eBay"s corporate jet when she was CEO.
The group returned to those themes Monday, touting the site"s purported transparency as an antidote to Whitman"s decision so far not to disclose those records. Organizers also envision the site as a repository for video and statements made during Whitman"s campaign stops around the state.
For Corey Cook, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, the creation of such a site marked "the next logical step" in fusing of digital and political "” another in a progression that includes President Obama"s 2008 online fundraising push but also the controversial "Demon Sheep" ad put out by U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina last month.
Cook called the site "brilliant" tactically, because it allows Level the Playing Field to both collect and disseminate information about Whitman. But he warned any claims of accuracy and substance should be seen as little more than a "veneer."
"The political junkie in me is impressed," he said after surveying the site. "The political scientist in me is horrified. I don"t see the button on the left for budgetary matters or things like that."
In announcing the site"s launch, members of Level the Playing Field told reporters they would boot anyone abusing the site and, conversely, wouldn"t reject flattering information about Whitman, provided it came with a valid source. On Monday afternoon, for example, two of the three user-generated discussion threads were actually favorable to Whitman.
Ace Smith, one of the group"s strategists, predicted the site would be more informative than Whitman"s Wikipedia page, which he said "reads like propaganda from an Eastern bloc country 20 years ago," he said. "We"re asking for real, truthful discourse that seeks to hold her to the level of transparency that she"d have if she were elected governor."
Whitman"s staffers, once again, had little to say about Level the Playing Field"s latest push. And, once again they deployed an intern, Marcheta Marshall of Stanford, to issue their official response.
"Looks like these guys are pretty worried about Meg," she said. "Just like Wikipedia, I"m sure my professors won"t even allow me to use it as a source for my term papers."
Contact Denis C. Theriault at 916-441-4651.