News

Candidates priced out of ballot pamphlets

With its big cities, the skyrocketing costs of television advertisements and
the impracticality of campaigning door-to-door, running for statewide office
in California has long been an expensive endeavor.

But this year, for the first time, down-ticket campaigns are getting slapped
with one more small expense: Candidates for statewide office must now pay
for their ballot statements–at the rate of $20 per word–in the state’s
official voter guide.

Some activists and candidates are saying the new fee prices them out of what
was once their best shot at communicating with a statewide audience.

“Democracy shouldn’t have a price tag. Why don’t we start charging voters
for the cost of voting in elections?” says a sarcastic Larry Cafiero, the
Green Party candidate for insurance commissioner. “I am very dismayed that
the state thinks they have to charge candidates for this because it doesn’t
provide a level playing field, especially for third-party candidates.”

Cafiero is one of many statewide candidates that did not submit a full
250-word statement–which would cost $5,000–because he could not afford the
cost.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” says Cafiero, who works as a newspaper
editor.

Here’s what Cafiero will have printed in the election guide: “Candidate
statements, once free, now cost $20 per word. Fight pay-to-play
government–Vote Green. My statement: http://www.votecafiero.com/statement.”
Even that brief pitch cost Cafiero $380. He has a full 250-word statement
online.

Gail Lightfoot, the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state, submitted
this terse–and ironic–statement: “Fully inform voters.” It cost her $60.
Glenn McMillion Jr., an American Independent candidate running for secretary
of state, writes only “pro-life, pro-family, pro-enforcement” and provides a
link to his MySpace page, an online social networking Web site, and the
American Independent Party site.

Seven other minor-party candidates have not submitted a statement at all.

“There are very few nonpartisan resources for voters available and the
ballot pamphlet is the most important one there is,” says Kim Alexander,
president of the California Voter Foundation. “The ballot pamphlet is the
one piece of voter information that goes out to every voter. It’s a shame
that the policy was changed [to make candidates pay].”

The new fee for ballot statements is a consequence of Proposition 34, the
2000 campaign-finance measure approved by voters. That measure created a
voluntary spending cap, $6.69 million for down-ticket races and $11.15 for
gubernatorial candidates in 2006, and allows every candidate who promises to
abide by those limits a ballot statement–at a cost.

The rate of $20 per word was chosen by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson
“to recoup production and distribution costs,” according to spokeswoman
Nghia Nguyen.

McPherson’s Democratic opponent in the fall, Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del
Rey, declined comment for the story.

Every major-party candidate for office who accepted those spending limits
has submitted a statement–except for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is
running for insurance commissioner.

A spokesman for Bustamante’s campaign said the missing statement was “an
oversight.”

Bustamante’s opponent, Steve Poizner, along with three other down-ticket
politicians, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, and
Attorney General Bill Lockyer have refused to accept the limits and will not
have ballot statements.

Neither Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nor Democratic challenger Phil Angelides,
the state treasurer, has accepted spending limits–and neither one will have
a ballot statement.

Alexander says that the new fee makes the uphill battle for poorly funded
candidates challenging incumbents even more steep.

“Prop. 34 was written by incumbent politicians and they knew that allowing
challengers to place free statements in the ballot pamphlet would give those
candidates a better opportunity to get their message out,” she said.

Despite the $5,000 price tag, a candidate statement is by far the cheapest
way for a candidate to communicate with voters statewide. In contrast,
airing television commercials across California for a week costs more than
$2 million, and sending direct mail often costs as much as $.40 to $.50 per
piece sent.

Statewide candidates aren’t the only ones getting their wallets dinged for
the right to have a ballot statement. Candidates for the state Assembly and
Senate face similar fees that are levied at the county-level, as do most
officials running in local races.

The candidates must pay fees to each county that their would-be legislative
district represents–and the fees charged vary wildly by county.

In tiny Alpine County–where residents cast a mere 450 ballots in the June
primary–the candidates for Assembly District 4 must pay $75 for a 250-word
statement.

But in Sacramento, candidates for Senate District 6 must pay $14,850 for a
250-word statement on the general-election ballot guide, or $59 a word. That
comes on top of the $10,100 a Democrat had to pay for a statement in the
primary and the $6,350 a Republican had to pay.

“The candidate does have to pay in advance in our office and bring in their
candidate statement,” said Brad Buyse, a spokesman for the Sacramento County
Registrar of Voters. “Some of the costs are incurred in translating the
statement into Spanish because Sacramento County is bilingual.”

The single most expensive ballot statement for a legislative seat is in
Senate District 18, which stretches across four Central Valley and Inland
Empire counties. To print a 250-word statement in the voter guides for all
four counties costs a jaw-dropping $15,426–or more than $61 per word.
The costs break down as follows: $900 for Inyo, $5,346 for Kern, $1,380 for
San Bernardino and $7,800 for Tulare County.


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