Candidate statements cost a grip

C.T. Weber, the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for state Senate District 6, said that a $14,850 statement, 250 words in the county’s sample ballot, would eat up about 1,485 percent of his campaign budget.

So he’s simply taking his campaign to the streets—going door-to-door and putting up yard signs. Weber also plans to place an ad in a small newspaper and use his Web site to tell voters what he’s all about.

Charging SD 6 candidates $59.40 per word doesn’t keep Sacramento County officials awake at night. Voter-pamphlet space is a bargain according to Brad Buyse, the county’s campaign-services manager. “Any candidates, upon qualification, are on an equal political platform,” he said.

Figure 381,132 registered voters in SD 6 (as of October 24) times 39-cent postage—that’s $148,641.48.

Throw in Spanish translation, and the cost of printing and paper, and candidates have themselves a real deal.

“The public should not be held hostage to paying for learning of a candidate’s qualifications through their candidate statements,” Buyse said. Free statements would mean higher taxes, he explained.

While the county always charged campaign hopefuls for their two cents, the state is collecting down-ticket candidate-statement fees for the first time this year. Gubernatorial candidates began paying during the 2003 recall election.

When voters passed Proposition 34 campaign reforms in 2000, they asked candidates to accept a voluntary spending cap or else forgo a statement in the statewide voter pamphlet. Sounds good for the little guys, but take a closer look at Proposition 34, Article 6. You’ll also find that voters passed the provision: “A candidate … may purchase … a statement in the ballot pamphlet.”

And thus, statewide fees for candidate statements were born.

Secretary of State Bruce McPherson set the price at $20 per word in 2006. That means a candidate can spend up to $5,000 for a full 250-word statement.

According to Nghia Nguyen, McPherson’s press secretary, the price is set at below cost and is more than fair. She said, “The secretary has tried to find a balance between giving the candidates the opportunity to educate voters about their candidacy and recouping taxpayer dollars.”

Green Party candidate for insurance commissioner Larry Cafiero protested the new fees in his three-sentence statewide message: “Fight pay-to-play government—Vote Green. My statement:”

Set on playing fair, Cafiero only wrote a 247-word pitch on his Web site. He thinks statements should be free—that the state and counties should pay for all things election as a public service to the voters.

“If the voter statement is free, it levels the playing field,” Cafiero said. “I can’t have Chevron-Texaco foot the bill for my campaign statement.”

High-profile candidates Phil Angelides and incumbent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t accept the $11,150,000 spending cap for the gubernatorial race. Nine out of 42 statewide candidates who qualified for space did not place a statement. Seven of nine of those candidates are outside of the main parties, Democratic and Republican.

CSUS Assistant Professor of Government Kimberly Nalder told SN&R, “Candidate statements become more important as you move down the ballot.” She said, “For those races where they are the primary source of information, voters may be searching carefully for any cues that might guide them—partisan buzzwords like ‘family values’ or ‘socially responsible’ might tip them off. In those cases, candidates who do not provide a statement are at a disadvantage.”

William Chan, the Republican who is opposing incumbent Dave Jones in the race for Assembly District 9, said candidate statements are extremely important. “It’s almost like a resume on the ballot—[it] defines qualifications and why that person is running for office,” he said. Chan opted against a $6,850 statement in the county’s pamphlet, which would represent about 40 percent of his campaign budget.

“There can be no price on democracy and public information,” Weber said. “Citizens need to have information to make an intelligent choice when they go to the polls.”

The candidates and government officials that SN&R spoke to all agree on one thing: Candidate statement or not, it’s still on the voter to be well-informed and to vote.