Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Capitol Weekly article on slate mailers

On Election Day last week Capitol Weekly published an excellent, comprehensive story by Malcolm MacLachlan about the increased use of slate mailers in California elections, the deliberate confusion and misleading of voters these kinds of publications cause, and the difficulty in tracking the responsible parties.  Excerpts are below.


 “Proposition 19 allows school bus drivers to smoke pot right before work,” according to a mailer from the Small Business Action Committee. Prop. 19, of course, says no such thing, and specifically allows employers to discipline and fire employees who are impaired on the job.

A “Voting Guide for Republicans,” meanwhile, specifically makes the unlikely recommendation that members of the GOP vote for Democrat Bill Lockyer for Treasurer, instead of his Republican challenger, Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Tustin. It also urges “Republican voters” to oppose Prop. 23, even though the California Republican Party and a large majority of Republican voters support the initiative, which would indefinitely suspend the state’s AB 32 global warming law. It also states that Republicans should oppose Prop. 20 and support Prop. 27, the exact opposite of the party’s position on these redistricting measures.

Then there’s the “Californians Vote Green” slate card. It doesn’t claim to have anything to do with the California Green Party. But it’s printed in green, with images of trees. This “green” slate doesn’t endorse any Green Party candidates. Instead, it calls for votes for the entire statewide Democratic slate, except Attorney General, where it endorses Republican Steve Cooley. The card says nothing about the Proposition 19 marijuana-legalization initiative, which has the support of 95 percent of Green Party county chapters in the state. The Green Party allows county organizations to vote on initiative endorsements.

“It’s interesting they need to pretend to be us to get votes, maybe I should take it as flattery,” said Derek Iverson, a spokesman for the state Green Party. He added that his party doesn’t “have the money” to send out large numbers of mailers.

When it comes to propositions, the slate differs from the actual Green Party recommendations on all but two ballot measures. It calls for a no vote on Prop. 20 and yes votes on Prop. 22 and Prop. 27, when the state Green Party takes no position on any of those three. The slate urges a no vote on Prop. 25 and yes on Prop. 26, the exact opposite of the Green Party positions.

The Prop. 26 claim on the slate is particularly egregious, saying “26 makes polluters pay.” Much of the opposition to Prop. 26, which would re-label many fees and taxes and require two-thirds votes to pass them, is that it contains specific provisions that many say would let polluters off the hook when it comes to cleaning up their own messes.

Misleading campaign mailers have been a part of California politics for many years, of course. But Iverson said they seem to be worse this year. This may have something to do with the Citizens United case back in January, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts on campaigns if they stuck to so-called “issue ads.”

While the case had the least effect on California, which already has that system, Iverson contends the resulting blizzard of money nationwide appeared to make people more brazen.

All three mailers contain a disclaimer, usually in small print, that the mailer was not produced by “an official political party organization.”

Tracking down the companies behind these mailers can be difficult.

CaliforniansVoteGreen.com is registered to Enom, Inc., a Bellvue, Washington-based domain wholesaler which allows the actual buyers of domains to remain anonymous. The “Voting Guide for Republicans” doesn’t even list a website one can visit.

In fact, even though it contains at least one over-the-top lie, the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC) mailer is a model of honesty compared to the others. It at least links back to actual recognizable human beings — in this case, Joel Fox, the publisher of the Fox & Hounds website and the president of the SBAC. It also basically follows the CRP when it comes to propositions, though the mailer takes no position on Prop. 21, which the party opposes, and supports Prop. 22, on which the party takes no position.


Further confusing matters is the recent “Voter information guide for Democrats,” put out by the Voter Information Guide company based in Sherman Oaks. The guides contains the same “not an official party organization” disclaimer, but agrees with the California Democratic Party on everything. 

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