Foon Rhee

Opinion: A politician looking out for taxpayers – what a concept

Kevin McCarty will leave his Sacramento City Council seat and be sworn into the state Assembly on Dec. 1.
Kevin McCarty will leave his Sacramento City Council seat and be sworn into the state Assembly on Dec. 1.

Far be it from me to begrudge someone’s political ambition. I’m not thrilled, though, when I have to help pay for it – and I’m sure other taxpayers aren’t, either.

That’s where we are with Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty, who in his second try won a seat in the state Assembly last week. He’s a former legislative consultant and has been a Capitol lobbyist for a preschool advocacy group, so in many ways, this is his dream job. Good for him.

But because McCarty is in the middle of his third council term, that means a special election – scheduled for April 7 – is required to fill his District 6 seat. Talk about a low-turnout race.

And it will cost city taxpayers about $200,000.

I think it would be a really classy and politically smart gesture for McCarty to help pay that bill.

A politician voluntarily looking out for taxpayers – crazy, right? It would definitely be highly unusual for an elected official to chip in to hold an election. It would, however, be entirely legal.

Last year, the state Fair Political Practices Commission issued an advice letter that says using campaign donations to defray the cost of a special election is an allowed “governmental purpose.”

When I raised this possibility with McCarty, let’s just say he was not bursting with enthusiasm.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” he said Monday. “I’ve never heard of such an arrangement.”

It would be easier if he were sitting on a stash of cash in his campaign account. McCarty had $113,000 as of Oct. 18, but he told me that he spent it all by Election Day and expects to be $75,000 in the hole when all the bills are added up. McCarty, who will be sworn in to the Assembly on Dec. 1, says he’s going to have to raise money to settle his campaign debt.

It’s also legal, however, for officials to lend their name to a nonprofit that raises money to help pay for a special election, according to the FPPC.

To be fair, McCarty did warn voters during his 2012 council campaign that he might not serve a full term. Serving in the Assembly, with two-year terms, is like running a perpetual campaign. Part of his problem is bad timing. When Bonnie Pannell stepped down from the Sacramento City Council for health reasons in June, the council was able to set the special election to fill her seat for last week to avoid the extra cost.

There’s certainly no obligation for McCarty to do this. But I bet he would buy a lot of goodwill from voters, and would quickly stand out from the crowd of new legislators. Besides, it would be a very nice parting gift to his council colleagues and Sacramento’s taxpayers.

With the Legislature tainted by scandal and after an ugly campaign, McCarty has a chance to set a shining example for politicians. How about it?

Follow Foon Rhee on Twitter @foonrhee.

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