Candidate Bob Filner said Monday that he would like to restrict campaign spending in the race for the San Diego City Council's 8th District seat. His opponent, Mike Aguirre, said he, too, would like to limit campaign spending.
But because Aguirre thinks that Filner's plan is "a joke" and Filner thinks that Aguirre's proposal is "phony," Filner admitted: "We're back to an arms race."
Unable to agree on a method to control the escalating costs of waging a citywide race, Filner and Aguirre both said they will strive to adhere to their separate spending limit proposals. But, wary of each other's personal wealth, both candidates admitted that, by campaign's end, all the spending limit rules debated Monday may have been broken.
"I'm sorry that Mike's killed any chance for meaningful limits," Filner said.
"Filner's the one who's killed it," Aguirre shot back.
At a news conference at his Hillcrest headquarters, Filner proposed a campaign spending reduction plan highlighted by a voluntary ban on broadcast and print media advertising--the most expensive component of most races--and a limit on the amount of contributions from any particular interest group to no more than 10% of the candidate's overall expenditures.
That plan came in response to Aguirre's suggestion last week that the two candidates seeking the 8th District seat now held by Councilwoman Celia Ballesteros each adhere to a voluntary $150,000 overall spending limit in the Nov. 3 election, accept no contributions from developers and pledge not to spend any of their personal money in their citywide runoff.
However, the only thing that Filner and Aguirre could agree on was their mutual dislike of each other's respective plans, with both characterizing the other's proposal as unworkable and designed to give its author a strategic edge.
"Why does Aguirre want to set a ceiling now, after he's already spent $125,000 of his own money in the primary?" Filner asked. "He has the edge because of that. If I agree to what he's proposed, that puts me at a disadvantage."
Claims Recognition Advantage
Aguirre, however, argued that because Filner already has established citywide name recognition through his former service as president of the San Diego city school board and his unsuccessful 1983 campaign against San Diego City Councilwoman Gloria McColl, a ban on radio, television and newspaper advertisements "would hurt me and help him" by limiting Aguirre's options.
"The bottom line is, Filner has said 'no' to an overall spending limit and refused to say that he won't spend his own money or accept contributions from developers," Aguirre said. "My plan was very simple. But he's come up with this complicated, unworkable plan to cloud the issue and obfuscate the fact that he rejected any spending limit."
But Filner contended that, by eliminating expensive media ads, his plan would have resulted in an overall spending ceiling "well under" Aguirre's proposed $150,000 figure.
"If you don't need thousands of dollars for those slick 30-second ads, you don't have to raise it," Filner said.
To take the place of paid advertising, Filner called upon local television and radio stations to air a series of comprehensive debates "so that voters can be exposed to substantive debate instead of . . . just that slick Madison Avenue thing."
The stations' "sense of civic responsibility," Filner said, might persuade them to voluntarily give up a potential source of income by rejecting all political advertising and then offer free air time to candidates.
Aguirre, though, termed that part of the proposal "economically and practically unrealistic."
"Why stop with the TV and radio stations? Why not ask the post office to give us free postage and printers to print our brochures for free?" Aguirre asked rhetorically. "I'm all for the stations providing some kind of forum, but this wouldn't work and Filner knows it."
Both said they hope to voluntarily comply with their own proposals, unless each finds himself being heavily outspent.
"At some point, you've got to say all the rules are off," Aguirre said.
Both also repeated their oft-stated desires to not spend any of their personal money in the runoff, but--again pointing accusatory fingers at each other--said that if either turns to his own financial resources, the other probably will have to do so to remain competitive.
"If he's going to spend (personal) money, then I intend to reserve the right to do that," said Filner, who spent about $80,000 of his own money in the primary. "We don't know if he is or isn't. We don't trust him."
Aguirre countered: "Well, that's something we agree on. He's not only said 'no' to my proposal, but he doesn't even have the courage to be honest about it. He can't be trusted."