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Contra Costa assessor’s letter is legal

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Monday, March 1st, 2010 at 11:05 am in 2010 election, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics.

Kramer

Kramer

Contra Costa Assessor Gus Kramer sent out a mass mailer (see below) over the weekend advising property owners of their rights to a free reassessment.

Critics immediately accused the incumbent of misuse of public funds for campaign purposes. Kramer has, so far, three challengers in the June 2 election: John T. Nejedly, Bob Brooks and Ross Butler.

Simmer down,  folks.

Gvernment code section 89001, which bans mass mailings at public expense, applies only to campaign materials, explains Deputy District Attorney Steve Bolen.

Kramer’s name is mentioned three times in the letter, including his signature. But it contains no reference to the upcoming election nor does it contain express advocacy wording such as “Vote for Gus” or “Send your contributions!”

The fact that such a letter will boost Kramer’s name identification as he approaches the June election is icing on the assessor’s cake — and he knows it — but there’s nothing illegal about it. It’s called the incumbency advantage.

Kramer’s election platform centers around the idea that he has been an outspoken advocate for the reduction of property taxes on individuals whose homes have dropped below their assessed values. He has also been a vocal critic of private businesses that charge homeowners for seeking reassessments, a service his department provides for free.

People debate this mailing issue every election. Federal and state lawmakers often send out letters or mailers at public expense that outline their legislative accomplishments or promote events.

Cynics view each and every one of those pieces as barely disguised campaign literature intentionally designed to stay just this side of the law.

As a result, the use of tax dollars on mailers and postage poses a major conundrum for elected officials: If you tell your constituents what you have done for them, they want to know why you have spent their money on propaganda. And if you don’t tell them, they will ask, “What have you done for me?”

Here is the letter:

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  • John W.

    No big deal. I’m pretty sure I got the same basic letter about this time last year, followed by the notice in July. It’s helpful info. If Gus benefits from sending it out, so what?