A local congressional candidate offered the equivalent of a free gas card to motorists Wednesday, raising ethical questions in the process.
Nick Leibham, Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives in California’s 50th District, subsidized a portion of gas purchases up to 10 gallons for 50 drivers at each of three gas stations in Norty County. Calling the political venture a “pain at the pump tour,” Leibham set the floor of his gas subsidy at $1.27 a gallon -- the average price of gas in San Diego in April 1996 when, according to a Leibham news release, incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray “took his first campaign contribution from Big Oil.”
Assuming 150 motorists go for the deal, the preliminary math for Leibham’s campaign treasury pencils out to total subsidies of about $5,000, depending on the stations’ price variations.
Leibham and a group of supporters greeted motorists at a Shell station at 1060 North Camino Real in Encinitas at 11 a.m., a Chevron station at 1629 Dove Canyon Road in 4S Ranch at 2 p.m. and a Shell station at 3861 Valley Center Drive in Carmel Valley at 5 p.m.
Many of the motorists who idled as long as 20 minutes said they'd consider voting for Leibham. Asked for a response to Leibham’s “pain at the pump tour,” Bilbray’s campaign consultant Jennifer Jacobs laughed and replied “You mean his ‘buying votes’ tour? Is that really legal? I mean, what's next? Handing out $50 bills in envelopes passed out to people, saying 'Here, come vote.'"
"This is a promotion, a way we can draw attention to the public and inform the public of what Brian Bilbray has done as a Congressman and not a representative to the people," Leibham said. "Our attorneys have looked at this and it's all above-board. I'm perfectly confident Brian Bilbray and his lackeys will come up wanting and short, should they decide to press that any further."