The intriguing question about the May special election is whether either of the billionaire Republican gubernatorial candidates will spend money to defeat the measures they both publically opposed. Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman are weighing the politics of such a move, and looking ahead to January 2011 to determine whether they would be better off starting out their gubernatorial term with the current budget fix in place or to deal with the consequences of the measures defeat, whatever they may be.

The focus is mostly on Poizner because he has a history of spending heavily in initiative campaigns. He helped fund the unsuccessful redistricting campaign during the 2005 special election and, most notably, stepped up with big dollars to knock out the term limit change measure promoted by then Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata that would have allowed them to remain in their leadership positions beyond the scheduled end of their terms.

When Poizner was grilled on a Southern California radio show about whether he would be a big contributor to the No campaign on the Spring ballot measures, he implied he would be spending money, but in his way. That would be running around the state to speak out against the measures and setting up a website, his Not Another Dime effort, to oppose the proposed budget fix.

Some have suggested Poizner will not spend his money on measures that appear to be struggling in the polls, but, instead, might fund a ballot measure on fiscal reform to coincide with his name appearing on the 2010 ballot. Buzz around the capitol is getting louder than some of the taxpayer groups that oppose the spending limit in Proposition1A plan to field their own tighter spending cap proposal in the next election cycle. Poizner might be induced to help fund that effort.

However, the history of a candidate using initiatives as a platform for a gubernatorial run is not so good. We’ll call it the Van de Kamp Experiment. Then Attorney General John Van de Kamp’s quest for the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial nomination suffered when he offered three reform initiatives on the same primary ballot. All the measures and Van de Kamp, himself, were defeated.

Of course, Poizner could fund everything: the No campaign on the May measures, a new spending limit initiative in 2010 and his gubernatorial campaign. He is a billionaire, after all. But, as Everett Dirksen once reminded us about the federal budget, a billion here, a billion there, and soon you’re talking real money. The same principle applies to a million here and a million there I suppose. And one becomes a billionaire by understanding the value of money.

The betting here is that the status quo will remain. Poizner will focus his attention on his opposition to the special election measures, fund his own limited efforts on that front, but not be a big donor to the No campaign.

But, if Whitman decides to write a check or the May election measures gain traction then it might be time for the old engineer in Poizner to do some recalculation.