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California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will likely face a recall election this fall, more than a year before his first term in office is supposed to end. Frustrated by his handling of the pandemic, organizers behind the recall campaign say they have well over the 1.5 million signatures they need to make the ballot. Signatures will be verified next month.
That means a flood of money is heading to California with very few strings attached. There are no caps on donations to campaigns to keep Newsom or boot him out, although limits are still in place for direct contributions to individual candidates looking to challenge the governor.
“It really opens up a huge avenue for [Newsom] to raise volumes of money in order to defend himself,” said Rob Stutzman, co-director of communications for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful gubernatorial recall campaign, which unseated then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, in 2003.
It also opens up an interstate highway for money to chase Newsom from office, from out-of-state billionaires to small donors.
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“The potential for out-of-state money to come into a governor’s race in California now is much higher in the context of a recall than it typically would be,” Stutzman said.
All those unlimited campaign funds translate to an offseason stimulus package for local media outlets which will be awash in campaign ads, and for pollsters and political strategists, too.
Republican Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego and so far the biggest political threat to Newsom, will have plenty of professionals working on his campaign. But you don’t need any staff, experience or party endorsement to get your name on the ballot.
Adult film actress Mary Carey received more than 11,000 votes in the 2003 recall, finishing 10th among about 135 candidates. She was joined on the ballot by used car salesmen, a hotel owner and a pair of beer makers all looking for a little publicity.
“You really have to try hard to stand out and be wackier than most of the other nutcases who are running,” said Lars Perner, a professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.
It takes just 7,000 signatures and $3,900 to get on the ballot.