Arnold Schwarzenegger’s two-month crusade to terminate Gov. Gray Davis’ reign may be the biggest political earthquake to hit California in recent memory, and Washington lawmakers are already shaking about the potential aftershocks inside the beltway.
If Schwarzenegger sails into Sacramento, his candidacy would epitomize the nightmare that wakes so many national career politicians from their slumber: that a self-financed multimillionaire with near 100% name recognition and little or no political experience could yank their positions away with little more than a hefty TV ad buy and a promise to “pump up” Washington.
It doesn’t help that TV stations have been cashing in on the phenom by running old Schwarzenegger movies since his announcement.
The Federal Communications Commission told the nets they had to stop last week after the list of candidates was certified. The continued free publicity would trigger the agency’s equal-time rules and all 150+ colorful candidates in the race could demand the same time.
Talk about a media circus.
What if the political bug really starts catching in Hollywood? Bored mega-stars could wake up Oct. 8 with a sudden political itch they just have to scratch.
It’s not just a California issue. Harrison Ford could up and decide he wants to add to his list of credits “gentleman from the great state of Wyoming,” where he has an 800-acre ranch.
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) narrowly escaped the Jerry Springer threat right about the same time Davis realized Schwarzenegger was a real-life predator.
Springer, a former mayor of Cincinnati, decided not to run for Senate in 2004 because he believed he could not spend enough time distancing himself from the sleaze factor of his raucous talk show. But he has left his options open in the future.
The Senate has seen its fair share of mega-wealthy self-financed candidates.
Sens. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), former chairman of the investment firm Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, are both worth more than $200 million and self-financed their campaigns.
But celebrity name recognition and endless supplies of cash? Now that’s a stacked deck even Washington isn’t used to.
National pols have spent years fretting about the unfair advantage multimillionaires have when running for Congress.
Last year as part of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign finance reform bill, Congress dramatically hiked the amount one donor can contribute to candidates facing opponents willing to dip into their personal fortunes.
Last month, McCain also tried to revive a free airtime proposal aimed at encouraging more political debate and reducing the costs of running for federal office.
Candidates with deep pockets have a serious Washington ally in the National Assn. of Broadcasters, which has long opposed free-airtime efforts as anti-free speech and unconstitutional.
This year, however, lawmakers appear willing to take on the powerful broadcasting lobby.
When McCain first unveiled the new broadcasting TV advertising reforms, most political insiders thought they wouldn’t get much traction.
The “Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act,” as it’s called, targets the most expensive aspect of modern campaigns: broadcast advertising.
It would also give federal candidates and national political parties the chance to receive millions in broadcast vouchers to place political ads on TV and radio.
But now Washington lawmakers, along with the rest of America, are taking in all the absurdities of the Total Recall and Schwarzenegger’s surge.
No doubt in between laughs, lawmakers will be viewing any celebs in their state who have demonstrated the slightest interest in politics with new eyes and new fear.