Running for mayor: The $50 meal ticket

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I tweeted a thought this afternoon and expanded upon it on air tonight. Here's what a $50 filing fee bought the also-rans in the Mayor's race: the right to demand equal time on the radio, an automatic invite to a half-dozen or so forums and luncheons, where you can express your political views to a captive audience, and free food at those same forums and luncheons. In fact, I'll bet you could eat enough in free food to offset the $50 filing fee. That's not a bad deal for the also-ran candidate.

But it is a bad deal for the election process. This year, the presence of all these extra candidates prevented the voters from seeing a head-to-head debate between the serious contenders. Instead of a debate over the future direction of the city, voters got a quarter million dollars worth of fluff advertising and a few forums.

When the charter was approved in 1989, there was no filing fee. In 1998, voters approved a charter amendment requiring candidates to put down a $50 deposit (which you get back if you draw more than 15% of the vote in the first election in which your name appears on the ballot) or submit a petition with 300 signatures. You have to submit the petition if you want to run as an independent, since you're getting a bye to the general election ballot.

$50 seems to be a reasonable deposit for a council race, but the amount should be higher -- maybe $450 for citywide races like mayor and auditor. Ditto for the number of signatures -- you should need nine times as many signatures to file for a citywide race as you do for a district race. The charter should set a higher initial fee and state that the filing fee can be modified by ordinance, but the new rates would be effective only after an intervening election.

The aim of a fee is to deter frivolous candidates from cluttering up the debate. If you really intend to win a race for mayor, you're going to have to raise a lot more than $450.

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8 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Why not make it $10k? That's even more prohibitive. That would guarantee that only two people could ever run for mayor.

If a guy can't show he's the best among many, then he/she probably shouldn't run. There was a winner, and he overcame all the other competition. That's how you win.

How about only two people in the Tulsa Run?

Doug Allen said:

to Jeff Shaw: The analogy to a race is faulty. Someone running slowly doesn't impede someone running quickly -- it can happen in parallel. Debates and public appearances work serially, and time used up by candidates who don't have the resources or the talent to win is taken away from the viable candidates.

Maybe you could make a refundable filing fee -- $50 to file, but then another $950 put in escrow and made available for the general election.

Excellent point, Doug. Jeff, I don't know if you attended any of the mayoral forums, but typically there was an hour in which you'd have to fit opening statements, Q&A, and closing statements. With seven or eight of the 11 candidates in attendance, you'd be lucky to get three questions answered. Fewer candidates would mean more issues could be addressed.

The filing fee is refundable now. It would be more accurate to call it a deposit -- you get it back if you get more than 15% of the vote or if you win your primary. Within a week after I won the 2002 Republican primary in District 4, I received my $50 cashier's check in the mail. You could call it earnest money; you lose it if you aren't really earnest about winning the election.

Candidates would always have the grassroots option of getting signatures on a petition instead of paying the deposit. Raising $450 means you find 90 people to give you $5 each. If you can't do either that or convince 2,700 voters to sign your petition, you aren't really willing to campaign to win the mayor's job, and you shouldn't be on the ballot.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I didn't know it was refundable. So I'm less inclined to stick with my original position.

Still, one person's frivolity is another person's freedom. We have to balance it.

Paul Tay Author Profile Page said:

Free food and airtime? I didn't get the memo.

For some reason, this offer only seemed to work for Republican candidates this year.

Jamison said:

I'd have to agree with Jeff on this one. A small fee ($50-$100) seems reasonable and/or a signature requirement (low single-digit percentage of the previous voter turnout) seems reasonable, and I would be fine with that, but anything more I would have a problem with.

Medlock spent at least $50K to lose. Bartlett spent at least 300k to win.

Let's face it to be a serious contender it will cost ya. I wouldn't mind seeing the fee be $500-$1K. Until there is a runoff process I'd like to see the distractiors stay home.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 8, 2009 11:04 PM.

Tulsa 2009 election info was the previous entry in this blog.

Primary post-mortem: Some initial thoughts is the next entry in this blog.

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