SACRAMENTO – A self-proclaimed carpetbagger who brought the Web savvy from his surfside home south of San Francisco to take on a Central Valley congressman has put his campaign on the virtual auction block.
The Web site boasts 20 million items for sale at a time, including scores of political memorabilia, but no campaigns that eBay is aware of, said a company spokesman.
Vance, 42, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on nine-term incumbent Rep. Wally Herger (search), R-Rio Oso, said he realized about two weeks into the race that he wasn't going anywhere without money.
But his platform is also grounded in the belief that special interests are to blame for some of the nation's problems.
"Congress is pretty much bought and sold," Vance said. "If you look at the funding sources you'll see why we don't have a utopia."
For believers in a future paradise, he is offering $20 certificates "of Democratic freedom" that carry the following disclaimer: "No undue rights or privileges or access or undue influence are accorded the bearer." But Vance does promise he will be "unfettered by corporate and special interest control."
The strategy attempts to tap nontraditional donors by using a forum that is increasingly finding a rich and generous source of political contributions. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean showed the power of Internet giving last spring when he was the first Democratic presidential candidate to pass the $1 million mark in online donations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., netted $1 million in 48 hours during his campaign in 2000.
"People are certainly always inventing new ways to raise money online, some are effective, many are not," said Matt Grossmann, research director of the Bipartisan California Commission on Internet Political Practices. "If anything has any hint of being effective it's picked up by many candidates."
Vance, 42, who moved to Williams six months ago from the tiny coastal town of Davenport bills himself as an outsider taking on an incumbent with a $578,000 war chest, name recognition and a knowledge of the district that runs up the Sacramento Valley to Oregon.
"I just came here to do what I can to take a knock at the neoconservatives," Vance said.
He's campaigning on a platform to find common solutions for environmentalists and loggers, he supports the rights of gun owners and wants to offer subsidies to farmers during a three-year transition to convert to growing organic crops.
While Vance's fund-raising tactic offers an inexpensive way to reach a wide audience, the challenge will be in getting Web surfers to find him.
So far, the certificates have not managed to sell out as fast as Vance, who faces two other challengers in the March 2 Democratic primary. Vance said he'd sold about $1,000 worth of certificates on eBay and his own Web site.
By midmorning Friday, there had only been 16 visitors at the eBay listing, which is difficult to find.
A shopper searching under the words "campaign," "politics" or "congress" is much more likely to discover a 1940 campaign button for Wendell Willkie, a used textbook or a wrist watch featuring the mug of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Vance's offering can be found by searching for "congressional campaign."
The novel listing was news to eBay.
"We don't know of any candidates that have directly sold anything on the site where the money went directly into their campaign coffers," said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy.
Win or lose, share certificates in Vance's campaign may eventually wind up back on eBay as mementos of the first-known campaign to sell shares online. Their value will probably depend on how Vance does at the polls.