St. Pete mayoral race makes the Wall Street Journal

3 August 2009

St. Petersburg, Florida – the test case for the Wild Wild West of political web ads?  Color me surprised.  Story here.

The Florida Elections Commission has decided a mayoral candidate’s ads on Google and Facebook appear to violate the state’s election law because they don’t include a disclaimer that indicates who bought them. Many other states, including Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Ohio, also require similar disclaimers.

[Mayoral candidate Scott Wagman’s] campaign, however, argues that the messages in question aren’t technically ads, but rather links to ads, and that it doesn’t pay for them unless a Web user clicks on them. When that happens, it says, the person is taken to a Web site that provides the appropriate disclosures.

[…]

“The irony of it is that it feels like we are being punished for being an efficient and an effective campaign[,” said Mitch Kates, his campaign manager.]

And the irony of that is that Wagman’s campaign has been anything but.

Courtesy Creative Loafing

Scott Wagman - courtesy Creative Loafing

The last link might seem a bit odd – most fundraising ever in a local election? – but given the fact that most of the money is his own this can’t be rated an accomplishment.  No slur against Wagman – I think he’s got some good ideas – but it’s always the trend for wealthy neophytes to fight every problem they face on the campaign trail with more money, the “best staff,” etc.  (I can’t help thinking of Mayor Bloomberg in New York, though lots of cases can be made – watch Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California this year.)

Speaking of staff, I don’t know about Wagman’s (except a friend of mine or two who’re involved and are good local people) but somehow I sense that a lot of these mistakes are due to his hiring people unused to running campaigns on a local level/in this area.  Legislative campaigns are not executive campaigns and being part of a state or national organization isn’t the same as running a small one yourself.  It’s not even comparable.  And you can hire somebody with a great CV who just doesn’t get the area.  (An endlessly common mistake here in DC.)

It sometimes seems like Wagman’s matched all of this money with people who think it’s really necessary and desirable.  My instinct is that it all appears a bit tawdry instead.  But that could just be my own unemployment talking.

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