By now your mailbox has already been flooded with campaign literature. Mixed in with the glossy flyers are slate mailers.
Slate mailers are for-profit statewide businesses with no official association with political parties or interest groups. They are regulated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and must disclose payments made and received in connection with the production of slate mailers.
These businesses operate under trustworthy sounding names such as Voter Education Group, California Public Safety, COPS Voter Guide, Save Prop 13, Democratic Voters Choice, Continuing the Republican Revolution, Budget Watchdog, California Vote Green or Woman’s Voice.
The names are chosen specifically to imply affiliation with an endorsement by established organizations. A number of slate mailer companies use the same return address. California Voter Guide and Budget Watchdog use the same Torrance address. Save Prop 13, California Public Safety and Woman’s Voice use the same address in Laguna Niguel.
Legitimate political parties and organizations do send out slate mailers. The candidates listed on these mailers are vetted through an interview process and have earned the endorsement.
So how do you tell the difference? Like everything else, read the fine print. In the smallest print size allowed, you will see a disclaimer statement that reads: “Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *” (asterisk). Those candidates without an asterisk didn’t pay to be listed and probably didn’t even authorize the use of their name and photo. They were included to give the mailer a look of legitimacy.
Slate mailer companies are also used by various individuals to send out last minute "hit pieces" on candidates. By using a slate mailer the actual contributors can remain unknown until after the election when the contribution reports are filed with the FPPC. These companies also provide a means for contributors to, legally and illegally, circumvent local campaign contribution limits.
In the 2010 election, the Voter Education Group sent out a mailer endorsing candidates Kristin Gaspar and Dan Dalager and blasting me. The group was later fined more than $110,000 by the FPPC for various financial reporting violations.
It’s not illegal to pay for a slate mailer endorsement, but is it ethical?
Don’t be fooled. Do what I do...toss them in the recycle bin.
—Teresa Barth, Encinitas City Councilwoman
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