Pay to play

It costs thousands to get matching funds

Money is the biggest obstacle for most would-be candidates. It’s not too difficult to get your name on the ballot, but reaching voters is a whole other ballgame. It’s the reason that none of the sitting city council members who are up for re-election have opponents.

While there is a city law that allows public matching funds for political candidates, the bar is very high. In order to receive matching funds in the mayor’s race, a candidate first has to raise $10,000 on their own just to be considered viable. (See “Money for nothing,” SN&R News, February 21.) That’s an amount of money out of reach to those who aren’t wealthy or already politically connected.

The city also charges candidates nearly $4,500 to print their 200-word statements on the ballot. The money goes to cover printing and mailing costs, but the fee doesn’t change, whether there’s one candidate on the ballot or 10.

Not surprisingly, only Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson have ponied up the money for ballot statements. The amount of cash it takes to buy a working automobile for many Sacramento families is a minor campaign expense to the front-runners.

Arguably, these high thresholds weed out the “nonviable” and the cranks. But it’s also one more way that politics is put out of reach of ordinary people.

There is one place where there are no entry fees to democracy: public-access television. On May 3, Sacramento Metro Cable and the League of Women Voters hold a mayoral debate, and all candidates are invited. The forum will be held in the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers, 700 H Street, Room 1450. You can also watch at home on channel 14 on your cable box. The forums will be rebroadcast.