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Misleading mailers abound

 “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.

When asked about the Prop. 19 language, Fox said “That was supplied by the campaign.”

Aside from a personal essay included inside the slate, Fox said, “we don’t do any copy.” But Fox also said he won’t include positions that vary greatly from his own or that of the Republican Party. The goal of his mailer, he said, it to get the word out, not to make money.

“I have an opportunity at the election time to send a message to a million people by offering advertising on the slate to people who agree with our message,” Fox said.

When party organizations have fought back, it’s rarely over the use of words like “Republican,” “Democrat” or “Green.” But the Republican National Committee sent a cease and desist letter on Oct. 27 to Hart & Associates of Newport Beach for using the party’s registered logo — a red and blue elephant with three stars in it. The Hart version differed only in the use of two stars instead of three.

“Your use of a near-exact replica of the Official Elephant Logo of the RNC is an egregious attempt to deceive the recipients of your mailer,” wrote John Phillippe, chief counsel of the RNC.

Phillippe went on to attack the “bad faith” recommendations on the “Continuing the Republican Revolution” mailer and warned “Absent your immediate compliance, the RNC will pursue this matter to the fullest extent of the law.”

But Scott Hart, owner of Hart & Associates, said the “two star” elephant is widely used in all sorts of private mailers, without the party filing suit. Hart identified two other “Republican” mailers which use the two-star elephant and make initiative recommendations that differ from the party, though he said he planned to comply with Phillippe’s demands.

“I just thought it was kind of ironic that the day after I receive their letter I got a mailer with the same elephant in it,” Hart said.

Hart’s recommendations did include the full Republican slate of statewide candidates. But on the eight initiatives where it gave recommendations, it differed with the party recommendations every single time, and that is likely where the complaints came from. In each case, he said, there is an asterisk by the initiative endorsement—which, if you read the fine print, indicates that the initiative campaign paid for it. Hart said he sells the slots to the highest bidder, but called himself “a good Republican” who may vote differently at the ballot box. He also said that there have been times when he refused to take someone’s money because he disagreed with their position, but declined to cite specific instances.

Republican political consultant Tony Quinn took issue with Hart’s choices, calling it “a fraudulent, slimy slate card” in a post titled “Exposing fraudulent slate cards” on, where else, Fox & Hounds.

“These cards are nothing but a cynical attempt to trick Republicans into voting against their own party so the vendors can make money,” Quinn wrote.

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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