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Wednesday, Sep 4 1996
Where the Rubbers Meet the Road
With all the artily and artfully posed body parts splashed around even mainstream print advertising and TV, it's easy to forget the suggestive power of a few carefully chosen words. Like the current campaign for Ramses condoms running in BART stations. "So sensitive you can feel even the little tremors," reads the copy, splashed out in MTV-ish letters. That's it, no graphic.

And, yes, the "tremors" refer specifically to Bay Area seismic events, when, well, you really do feel the earth move.

S.F. was one of only four metro areas to be singled out for a custom-fitted message, explains Angela Geml, a Ramses spokeswoman at WestGroup Advertising in Tampa, Fla. Based on sales, the Bay Area is an official "key market" for the No. 4 rubber maker.

D.C., New York, and Chicago also qualified for the Ramses treatment. "Specially made for your favorite monument" was the tag line on posters in the nation's capital, in a nod to George's granite phallus. New York's was a limp "The official souvenir of the city that never sleeps."

Spiciest by far was the slogan for Chicago: "The best for your wurst." Sadly, it proved a bit too spicy and was dropped after "some controversy," Geml says. A simple sausage-casing metaphor seems mild, given the analogies that could grow out of the Windy City motif.

Curiously, condoms cause prudishness to break out in the oddest places. The networks won't run ads for them, except in public service announcements. That means rubber peddlers spend heavily on cable and slightly unorthodox print media. The Ramses series is what's called a "transit buy," appearing only in subways and on taxi tops.

Back to S.F.'s tremors. It's flattering that we made the cut, but how well will Bay Area manhood react to the catch phrase? The word "little," used in any connection with the topic at hand, has always struck us as risky. But if the earth moves for you ....

Extortion by Editorial, Round 2
New Fillmore Publisher/Editor/Chief Ad Salesman David Ish lived up to his promised amplification of the open letter to Smith & Hawken that he wrote for his August issue after the garden store chain declined to buy an ad from him. The September New Fillmore has a full page of densely packed type, 2,000-plus words' worth, in which Ish airs Smith & Hawken's side of the matter briefly and then launches into the heart of his beef, revisiting old ground in much greater detail.

The core of the episode is summed up about a quarter of the way through Ish's wandering broadside: "If I am to spend several thousand dollars every month giving free reign [sic] to other people to express their opinions and reporting on issues in the neighborhood which effect [sic] them I fail to see why I should not be free to express my views on matters which effect [sic] me."

He later admits his first letter was "self-serving. This does, after all, appear to be the age of self-service, but I humbly submit to my critics that in serving myself I serve my neighborhood as well, and serve myself in order that I may be free to serve my community." Louis XIV couldn't have said it better himself.

This time around, rather than bearing the entire full-page cost himself as he did in August, Ish enlisted a local business to "sponsor" it. In exchange, naturally, it got a plug.

The New Dark Ages
After months of tortured deliberation, intense scrutiny, and, as far as we can tell, plain old mendacity, the Senate Elections Committee in Sacramento has deep-sixed a bill that would have required state politicians and office-seekers to file their campaign finance disclosure forms electronically for posting on the Internet.

The bill, co-authored in its final form by Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), Assemblyman Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz), and Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco), was approved overwhelmingly by the Republican-controlled Assembly in the waning hours of the 1996 legislative session last week, only to suffer death at the hands of Democratic nit-pickers on the Senate elections panel. The chief nits -- er -- nit-pickers: Committee Chairman Richard Polanco of Los Angeles and two termed-out Bay Area senators, Dan Boatwright of Contra Costa and Henry Mello of Santa Cruz. Boatwright fretted that electronic posting of campaign finances would make candidates subject to federal interstate commerce rules. (So?) Mello, who regards himself as one of the digital cognoscenti, worried that devious Web-surfers in China or New Zealand might unfairly single out his largest campaign contributors and ignore all those little people who have donated their hard-earned cash to his political cause. (Oh, Henry, do watch this space!)

Bear in mind, all of the information that would have been covered by the bill is already publicly available in a blizzard of paper filed by candidates, lobbyists, political action committees, and independent campaign committees with the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento. Curious citizens with no better way to occupy their time are always free to pop up to the capital for hours of sorting through 35 different forms and filings to puzzle over who's giving what to whom. (Journalists, who get paid for this kind of slogging, don't do it nearly enough, but that's another story.)

Nit-picking aside, there is ample and no doubt more interesting blame to be apportioned for the death of this bill. Start with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the state agency charged with overseeing enforcement of campaign finance laws. The FPPC got its knickers in a knot at the prospect of ceding authority for design of the electronic filing system to the Secretary of State's office. Then there were the Senate Democratic campaign strategists who felt just a bit squeamish about letting Republican McPherson, who's seeking the Senate seat Democrat Mello will be vacating in November, get too much credit for high-profile legislation so close to election time.

And finally, consider that ever-so-robust champion of campaign finance reform -- Hayward's own Bill Lockyer, the Democratic president pro tem of the Senate, who's been curiously quiet during the months of wrangling over electronic filing. Lockyer's stated objection to the bill was a provision, demanded by Assembly Republicans, that would have made it a crime to use information obtained from the electronic filing forms to "harass" campaign contributors. There are indeed some thorny First Amendment issues here, brought into sharper relief by the prospect of electronic filing. But Lockyer, the consummate legislative pragmatist, is not generally known for letting the perfect get in the way of the good. We fear the pro tem protesteth too much.

Phyllis Orrick and Susan Rasky can be reached at SF Weekly, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8139; e-mail:

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Phyllis Orrick


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