by Kara Platoni
Dear political operatives: some last-minute campaign advice. If you decide to send around a phony slate mailer claiming to be a "Voter Information Guide for Democrats" prominently featuring a grinning Senator Dianne Feinstein and the names of practically every all-star on the Dems' team, you might want to make sure it actually endorses the Democrats' position. And if your last-minute sneak attack on the lefties involves trying to make voters confuse your mailer with the official one sent out by the California Democratic Party, you might to make sure that you don't send one of the fakes to Wes Boyd, the founder of MoveOn.org.
The so-called "Voter Information Guide," which surfaced over the last few days, urges voters to nix nearly every initiative on the ballot, including cigarette tax Prop. 86, petroleum industry tax Prop. 87 and campaign finance reform measure Prop. 89. But if you can make out the tiny and nearly unintelligible boilerplate at the bottom, you'll find this mind-blowing disclaimer: "This document was prepared by Voter Information Guide, not an official political party organization. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement by others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of or opposition to any issues set forth in this mailer."
We'll say. Feinstein, whose campaign has firmly denounced the use of her image without permission, actually supports both Prop. 86 and 87, as does the California Democratic Party. (The party is neutral on Prop. 89.)
Once East Bay resident Boyd found the publication in his mailbox, he immediately sent around around an e-mail warning MoveOn members to double-check their mail, and other political organizers are outraged as well. According to Yusef Robb, communications director for the Yes on Proposition 87 campaign, 4 million California households received the fake mailer, and it's slick enough to hoodwink even the pros. "These fooled everyone from our campaign workers' mothers to high-profile supporters of Prop. 87 who have gotten these mailers and called us up and said 'What is going on?'" he says. "The truth is Proposition 87 is endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Dianne Feinstein, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, San Franciso Mayor Gavin Newsom and every other Democrat worth mentioning in the state."
Di-Fi's campaign office was deluged with hundreds of calls from confused voters, says campaign manager Kam Kuwata. And the California Nurses Association, one of the powerhouses supporting the campaign finance reforms of Prop. 89, is equally upset that the mailer claims to be based on the evaluations and recommendations of, among others, "nurses and health care workers," even though, says the union's communications director Charles Idelson, the mailer is "a slam on 89."
So who is really behind this "Voter Information Guide" anyway? According to Robb, the Sherman Oaks return address listed on the mailer actually belongs to a political operative named Larry Levine, whom Robb describes as a "hired gun" with a history of taking money from tobacco and oil interests.
According to the California Secretary of State's Campaign Finance Web site, this year anti-Prop. 87 group Californians Against Higher Taxes, whose top donors include San Ramon-based Chevron, Aera Energy LLP, and Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, paid Levine's Voter Information Guide a total of $300,000. Meanwhile, anti-Prop. 86 group Californians Against Unaccountable Taxes shelled out $75,000 to the Voter Information Guide -- that group's top contributors include the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Cigar Association of America, and Philip Morris.
According the Levine & Associates Web site, Levine has been producing slate mail in California since 1971 and claims that "more than 80% of the candidates and ballot measures that have appeared on the Voter Information Guide since the slate was founded in 1993 have won their elections."
The Oakland Tribune quotes Levine arguing that it was okay to use Feinstein's image because it appeared beneath text opposing Prop. 85, which would mandate parental notifications for teens seeking abortions, a ballot measure the senator does indeed oppose. But that that doesn't fool Kuwata. "We all are adults here," he says drily. "There seems to be an effort to confuse voters at best and at worst to totally mislead them."
Yes On 87's Robb will go one step further: "Whether in our mailboxes or on the television, the oil companies' campaign is pure deception designed to keep us dependent on the oil they sell," he says.
Says MoveOn's Boyd, the phony slate mailer only proves that "California really needs to pass Proposition 89, the Clean Money initiative, so that it will be illegal for oil companies to spend millions on deceptive mailings like this. It's really gotten so bad that all they have left are lies and deception."
The California Democratic Party's actual 2006 slate mailer is downloadable here.
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