Two weeks after his landslide reelection, four-term California Gov. Jerry BrownÂ invited lobbyistsÂ to a private fundraising reception at a swanky Capitol restaurant.
The move was odd because, at 76 years old, the termed-out chief executive of the nationâ€™s largest state is too old for the final political promotion to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
If the White House isnâ€™t in the cards, whatâ€™s Brown up to?
With nearly $24 million stashed away inÂ campaign accounts, and reports showing he spent just $5.9 million on his re-election campaignâ€”even less than GOP opponent Neel Kashkariâ€™s $7.1 millionâ€”thereâ€™s no reason for Brown to bother with the chicken dinner fundraising circuit if heâ€™s planning to end his career.
Whatever his intentions, one thing is certain: Moonbeam isnâ€™t planning to ride off into the sunset.
Jerry Brown for President â€” Fourth Timeâ€™s the Charm
On Inauguration Day 2017, Jerry Brown will be older than Ronald Reagan on his last day in office. Those state-level campaign funds canâ€™t be transferred (easily) to a federal campaign. And Brown definitively ruled out another presidential run last year, saying â€śtime is kind of running out on that.â€ť
It doesnâ€™t make sense for Brown to seek the White House a fourth time, and thatâ€™s exactly why heâ€™ll do it. The Zen politician has prided himself on going against the grain.
Last year, he cruised to reelection with a non-campaign. A nation weary of the prospects of Bush vs. Clinton 2.0 could embrace Jerryâ€™s low-key style. TheÂ toll-free hotline from his 1992 presidential bidÂ remains active. Moreover, a presidential run gives Brown the chance to define his legacy by telling the country about his â€śCalifornia comeback.â€ť
Brown was the top performing Democrat in the 2014 midterm elections. He earned a million more votes than former Gov. Charlie Cristâ€™s losing effort in Florida and doubled the vote total of Gov. Andrew Cuomoâ€™s win in the Empire State. Raw vote totals are skewed by Californiaâ€™s size. Brown also had the widest margin of victory by percentages making him the strongest elected Democrat in the country.
Political Leverage: Ballot Measures in 2016
Brownâ€™s been around California politics long enough to know that the real battles are fought over ballot measures. The signature threshold for qualifying ballot measures is determined by turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. Consequently, last yearâ€™s record low turnout will result in a record number of ballot measures in 2016.
Brown has said that heâ€™s looking to use his surplus cash forÂ â€śsome major ballot measure battle that I canâ€™t even conceive of.â€ťÂ While some of his largess will go towards 2016 ballot measures, it wonâ€™t consume his entire war chest. This election, Brown made big business and big labor pony up most of theÂ $13.9 million for Propositions 1 and 2. Why would he spend his own money this time around?
The Legacy Project
Jesse Unruh has an institute. John Burton has a building. Whatâ€™s Jerry Brown going to buy to ensure his name lives on?
When Californiaâ€™s ill-conceived high-speed rail plan runs off track,Â Brown will be without a legacy project. Not to worry, his millions of dollars in campaign funds can save his place in history with a sizable endowment to a university for an institute better than Unruhâ€™s and a building bigger than Burtonâ€™s.
The Democratic Kingmaker
Brown could dispose of his campaign cash with campaign contributions to legislative candidates and the California Democratic Party. Then again, Brown has been stingier than your coupon-clipping grandma who still uses her passbook savings account.
Brown was, in the words of theÂ Sacramento Bee, â€śnowhere to be seen in most down-ticket races.â€ť In the June primary, the governor didnâ€™t intercede on behalf of Steve Glazer, a faithful political adviser who was pummeled by the stateâ€™s labor unions in a Democratic legislative primary. In the general election, Brown cut an ad for one competitive State Senate candidate, but couldnâ€™t manage to get theÂ candidateâ€™s name right.
Brown the Philanthropist
As mayor of Oakland, Brown founded two charter schools, the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. In the past decade, heâ€™s raisedÂ tens of millions of dollarsÂ for the education initiatives. After the November election, an unnamed Brown aide told theÂ San Francisco Chronicle, â€śMy bet is whatever is leftover would go to those two projectsâ€¦They are near and dear to his heart.â€ť
Attorney James V. Lacy, a frequent guest on Fox News Channelâ€™s â€śVarney and Company,â€ť is author of â€śTaxifornia: Liberalâ€™s Laboratory to Bankrupt America.â€ť