The 33-Year-Old Tour Guide Exposing the Absurdity of the California Recall

Tens of millions of dollars have poured into this election, with most of it aimed at supporting Newsom and opposing the recall effort. Freed from the usual imperative to collect from small donors—targets of recalls in California aren’t subjected to the same campaign contribution limits as candidates—Newsom has raked in mounds of cash from political action committees and CEOs, including Netflix’s Reed Hastings, who gave $3 million. Meanwhile, Republican megadonors, including billionaire L.A. real estate developer (and nightmare landlord) Geoff Palmer and even Cox himself, have spent millions in support of the recall. (“It does feel like a rich person’s game,” a campaign finance expert told Mother Jones.) 

In that context, the startup costs of a candidacy like Papagan’s are peanuts. “Honestly, if you can’t raise $10,000, you’re not a serious candidate in California, period,” Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, told me. For Papagan, that’s precisely the problem. 

“If you raise or spend more than $2,000, you need to form a political committee,” Papagan said. “You have to open a special bank account, and none of the banks knew how to do it. I went to all these different banks, nobody knew. Wells Fargo finally figured it out.” 

Deterred by the prospect of actually campaigning, Papagan ultimately decided against forming a committee. “I didn’t want to have to be, like, raising money all the time, and like, asking my friends to, like, buy these yard signs,” he said. It meant he’d be legally restricted from raising more than $2,000. (The filing costs and candidate statement fees don’t count toward this cap. Asked about the high cost of those statements, Jenna Dresner, a communications manager for the California secretary of state, wrote in an email that it was far below “the actual cost per page for inclusion.”) 

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