Friday, May 30, 2008

Flying mud, dirty tricks around the state this election

Next Tuesday, June 3 is California's statewide primary and in some parts of the state there are heated contests underway for legislative, congressional and local offices. Today's San Francisco Chronicle features this article by John Wildermuth and Christopher Heredia spotlighting some of the dirtier political tricks being tried out around the state. Excerpts are below.


Mailboxes across the Bay Area and throughout the state are being stuffed full of nasty mailers taking final sharp jabs at candidates up for office in Tuesday's primary election.

But most of the multicolored attack pieces aren't from candidates taking on their opponents by name. They are bought and paid for by special interests that use independent expenditure committees to do the dirty work for the candidates they support.


As the election draws closer, the attacks grow nastier and complaints from candidates get louder.

Richard Holober, running in the Peninsula's 19th Assembly District, called a telephone news conference Thursday to slam JobsPAC, a political action committee financed by such corporate giants as Chevron, Philip Morris and Safeway, for sending out mailers painting him as a special-interest lobbyist.

"Look behind the veil and see who is funding these attacks," said Holober, a onetime lobbyist for labor groups. "These are the groups that don't want to see me in office."

Also on Thursday, the California Teachers Association and other education groups charged that a new independent expenditure television ad unfairly reports that Assemblyman Mark Leno, a candidate for a state Senate seat representing Marin County and parts of San Francisco and Sonoma County, joined with Republicans in 2004 to cut school spending.

"It's a cheap shot and teachers were shocked," said Larry Allen, a CTA board member. "We supported that cut as the best deal we could get and endorsed Leno. But the ad leads people in a certain way."

The ad gets across a point that the independent group, Protect Our Children, wanted to make, although it didn't mention that the independent expenditure group gets all its money from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which supports former San Rafael Assemblyman Joe Nation, one of Leno's opponents.

Nation also has been under attack from independent expenditure committees representing state employee unions, teachers unions and nurses, which have spent more than $450,000 on mailers attacking him as a tool for corporate interests.

While Nation has sent out his own mailer attacking Leno and incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden for what he said was their unwillingness to take a strong stand against plans for a Rohnert Park casino, it went out under his own name.


In the East Bay, Berkeley Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who is running in the Democratic primary for the Ninth state Senate District, has been attacked by a group calling itself Education Leaders for High Standards for her voting record on education.

But the mailers don't mention that all the group's money comes from Indian tribes upset with Hancock's opposition to expansion of an Indian casino in San Pablo.


Despite such concerns, independent expenditure committees aren't going away. While the state has set tight limits on direct contributions to candidates and their campaigns, courts have consistently blocked any limits on money given to the independent committees, calling it a freedom of speech issue.

"IE's are a fact of political life," Nation said. "We just can hope they're factual."

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