October 3rd, 2003

Ads on Ballots to Pay for S.C. Primary? Sponsor Logos on Ballots Not out of the Question

By Jennifer Talhelm
Charlotte Observer

February’s S.C. presidential primary could be brought to you by ... name your
price.

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin says he plans to seek corporate sponsorships
to help raise $500,000 to hold the Feb. 3 primary, which the state party has
to pay for.

If a corporation wants to give a little extra to slap its name on a ballot
or a media backdrop—or pretty much anything—he’ll consider it. It’s a
takeoff on the way ballparks sell ads on scoreboards or seatbacks.

"Some statewide corporation may want their company identified with democracy,"
said Erwin, a Greenville, S.C., marketing executive. "You do what you have
to do as long as you do it legally and with integrity."

South Carolinians will play an important role in choosing the next Democratic
presidential nominee—assuming the primary goes on as scheduled. The first-in-the-South
contest falls third after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. North
Carolina’s Sen. John Edwards considers South Carolina a must-win.

But Democrats are struggling to find money to pay for it. South Carolina is
one of only a few states that require the state party to pay for the primary.

Erwin has been raising money since he was elected chairman in May. He has about
$220,000 in gifts and pledges, but he’ll have to use about half that just to
make payroll and keep the headquarters open.

Erwin has been soliciting donations from companies for several weeks. Campaign
finance laws allow corporations to contribute to state parties for some activities,
he said.

He said he got the idea to go a step further and allow companies to use their
names and logos on election materials during a recent conversation with Iowa
Democrats.

To help pay for the caucuses, Iowa Democrats plan to sell space on a media
backdrop. No one’s signed on yet, said party spokesman Mark Daley.

The S.C. Democrats haven’t lined up anyone yet either. But they say corporations
could sponsor ballots, get-out-the-vote ads or signs outside polling places.
They’re still talking to lawyers and party officials about their options.

"Everything will be done in good taste," assured Democratic Party
Executive Director Nu Wexler.

A Republican Party official ridiculed the idea. "That idea has about as
much credibility as the Democratic Party and their candidates. It’s just about
as absurd as they are," said S.C. GOP Executive Director Luke Byars.

Paul Sanford, counsel for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics,
said selling space on election materials is probably legal, though he’d never
heard of anyone doing it before. But he questioned whether it’s appropriate.

"I don’t really think it’s a good thing to commercialize the voting process,"
he said. "Just because it’s not illegal, it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing."

Erwin brushed off the criticism, saying it would be worse if the primary were
canceled.

"It somewhat changes the nature of politics, but boy, isn’t it consistent
with the way things are changing?" he said.

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