On a near-daily basis, media outlets including SF Weekly receive a plethora of press releases from elected officials who are also gunning for higher office. The two who are most prolific with press releases are San Francisco's City Attorney Dennis Herrera and State Senator Leland Yee -- both very credible candidates for the 2012 mayoral race.
Since Monday, Yee has fired off a slew of press releases on subjects including the number of bills he has introduced in the last two weeks and his campaign finance records in his race for mayor. On Jan. 25, Herrera released a statement that urged the state to investigate pipeline safety-- a topic that is nowhere near his jurisdiction as city attorney.
Are these cases of elected officials using their current office to campaign for another position? The answer is absolutely, yes. And while Yee and Herrera are not doing anything illegal, candidates who are also incumbents need to make sure they are taking up issues that are germane to their office.
Political pundits point out that using your office to campaign goes with the territory. "It's kind of like the guy in high school -- when you think about him, you don't remember him doing anything, but when you look through your yearbook he is in every photo," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution.
Why such pols inundate the media with press releases and statements is obvious, but whether it benefits them is less clear. While they can be spotted at every ribbon cutting or somehow get their names tagged with every story in the news cycle, there's potential for that to backfire during their campaign.
"There is such thing as overload," Whalen said. "If you are overexposed, the media and voters will turn you off."
That's why candidates who are also incumbents have to be smart about the news they choose -- and Yee has been. The San Francisco Democrat made national headlines after he demanded Rush Limbaugh apologize to him and the Chinese community for making "offensive remarks" about the Chinese language on his radio show. The news item blew up around local blogs, and remains one of the most commented blog posts on SF Weekly.
"Journalists have a nose for news, and [Yee] has a nose for news-making," Whalen said.
Herrera is in a less fortunate position. As the city attorney, he cannot publicly take positions on local issues. That makes it rather difficult for voters to know where he stands, said Jim Ross, a local political consultant. That's probably why he fires off press releases taking positions on state issues -- to help shape a platform.
"How does he say, 'As a candidate I'm for this, but as city attorney I'm not'?" Ross said. "It's an odd position to be in."
It's nothing he can't try to explain in a press release.
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