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How Political Campaign Fundraising Drawings Really Work

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In this photo taken Monday, April 20, 2015, Lt. Gavin Newsom speaks at the Californians for Safety and Justice conference in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

A California politician will hold a drawing Friday for two really nice Super Bowl seats — after soliciting donations to a campaign fund. What he barely mentioned was that you didn’t have to donate to win.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been offering supporters a chance to win Super Bowl tickets — at the 40-yard line, just a few rows up from the field — for a donation to his gun control ballot measure. What he doesn’t say in his emails is that you didn’t need to give money to win.

“Typically, the free way to enter is to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to an address that’s probably hidden in eight-point font in the boilerplate rules at the bottom or on a separate page,” says Sacramento campaign law attorney Brian Hildreth.

That, by the way, is totally legal. What would not be legal is to require that you make a donation to be entered. That would be considered a raffle, which charities can do but political campaigns can’t.

But even though breaking the rules would break the law, there isn’t really anyone keeping a close eye on these campaign drawings.

After all, it’s not like anyone is in the room when the winner is picked — so in theory, a campaign could vet the winner to make sure it’s a donor.

“Honesty of the people that are conducting the giveaway is really what you’re relying on there,” Hildreth says.

Newsom is hardly the first to use this fundraising strategy. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both held dinner drawings during their presidential campaigns — a way of giving people who can’t write big campaign checks a chance to win face time with candidates they’d otherwise only see along rope lines.

 Election 2016

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio