With no experience in public office, Meg Whitman is hoping her record in business and strong Silicon Valley ties will propel her to California's top job. So why has the Republican candidate for governor cancelled an eBay reunion and fundraiser scheduled for Monday?
As the auction giant's former CEO, Whitman made her employees wealthy with stock options. Hundreds of millions of dollars would have attended the party at her Atherton, Calif. house. But her opposition to gay marriage and support for Proposition 8, last year's ballot proposition which banned same-sex marriages, is weakening her support among eBay employees, a natural base for her campaign.
According to one invitee, Whitman staffers first presented the event as a reunion for eBay employees, only later revealing that it was a fundraiser for her GOP gubernatorial run. A copy of the invitation listed ticket prices running as high as $25,900.
The invitee said he received several requests to attend, and that prices were later cut before he received a notice that the event had been cancelled altogether, with guests invited to a separate event two weeks later.
Mitch Zak, a political consultant and spokesman for Whitman, disputed the notion that the eBay fundraiser had been cancelled, saying it had been "combined" with an event for former and current Bain employees, a management consulting firm where Whitman also worked. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican whose failed presidential bid Whitman supported, may attend that event, according to a note sent by a Whitman staffer.
Some former eBay employees say that Whitman operatives are exerting pressure on them to support the campaign. "We're definitely not pressuring anyone to contribute," Zak said. (That's a curious stance, since political fundraising usually involves pressuring people to contribute.)
Pierre Omidyar, eBay's founder and chairman, has declined to support Whitman. Stephanie Tilenius, a current eBay executive, signed an editorial published in the San Jose Mercury News opposing Proposition 8 last year, but is supporting Whitman's run, according to a source familiar with her views. Zak, the Whitman spokesman, said the campaign could not comment on individual contributors who had not authorized the release of their names.
Michael Dearing, a Stanford University professor who previously worked for Whitman as a senior vice president at eBay, posted a note on Facebook in April which has since circulated among current and former eBay employees. NBC Bay Area has obtained a copy of it. It begins:I respect Meg as a business leader, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities she gave me at eBay. But I can't support a candidate who supported Prop 8. For those who don't know, Prop 8 amended the California constitution to prevent millions of Californians who happen to be gay from enjoying the Supreme-Court-affirmed right to civil marriage -- the same civil right enjoyed by straight couples.
The eBay community isn't the only tech venue where Whitman's views on gay marriage are proving controversial. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who regularly hosts gatherings for female tech executives at her home, invited Whitman to speak recently, according to a person familiar with the event. Instead of the warm reception Whitman expected from her fellow executives, she was grilled on her stance on Proposition 8.