Comptroller candidate launches radio ad Campaign Ad Watch

October 23, 1998|By Jay Apperson

Republican state comptroller candidate Larry M. Epstein has released a 60-second radio spot that uses humor to try to boost his name recognition while characterizing his Democratic opponent, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, as a spendthrift.

What the ad says: The commercial begins with a young bosaying, "This is a pop quiz. You keep score - and be honest." He then asks, "What does the state comptroller do? A: Plays computer games. Or B: He's the chief financial officer of the state."

The boy then asks, "Why is state comptroller such an importanjob? A: He gets to look at everyone's tax returns. Or B: He manages the state's money so it can grow.

"Question 3: Who should you vote for? A: That Schaefer guywho used up the state's $400 million surplus and raised taxes more than anyone ever had before? Or B: Larry Epstein, your certified public accountant who has been managing billions of dollars for thousands of businesses?"

The little boy then says, "OK, the answers are B, B and well, yofigure it out. I'm only 6, and I know the answer."

The facts: After Schaefer was elected governor in 1987, he had surplus of $400 million with which to work. The money was used largely for one-time-only expenses, such as construction of state offices and university buildings, and to bail the state out of its savings and loan crisis. By 1990, a recession had slowed revenue growth and some state programs had to be slashed.

In 1992, Schaefer signed into law a budget bill that included nearly half-billion-dollar tax increase, called by opponents the largest in state history. This included a temporary surcharge on the income tax for families earning more than $150,000 and a boost in the gas tax to help pay for roads. The General Assembly approved the plan only after Schaefer showed opponents an alternative "doomsday" budget with dramatic program cuts.

Analysis: If ever there was a candidate with nothing to lose btrying something fresh, it is Epstein, who entered the race with a huge disadvantage in name recognition. The little boy's quiz is a gimmick that some might think silly. But the ad, written and produced by the Reeves Agency of Baltimore, is distinctive.

Epstein's irreverent reference to "that Schaefer guy" mighappeal to voters who don't recall the former governor fondly. As for the suggestions that Schaefer is a free-spender, they mostly refer to the duties of a governor. As a member of the Board of Public Works, the comptroller has a vote on who gets state contracts. But the comptroller does not control state budget decisions.

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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