Beware of paid slate mailers

A copy of the “COPS Voter Guide,” a slate mailer urging votes for certain candidates and ballot measures, recently landed on my desk, reminding me how wary voters should be of such things.

Use of the word “COPS” in big print, and the badge logo that accompanies it, seem to imply that law enforcement is endorsing these candidates and measures. That’s not true.

The COPS Voter Guide is a business: It sells endorsements. Its online “endorsement form” simply asks a candidate check a box to “agree that public safety is a top priority for public service. As an elected official, I will uphold the laws and work with California Law Enforcement on issues of mutual concern. This pledge does not commit me to any issue positions, nor does it mean that the COPS VOTER GUIDE agrees with me by endorsing all of my issue positions.”

It’s run by Moran & Associates, a Folsom-based political consulting firm; I left messages for company President Kelley Moran, but haven’t heard back from him.

This one – designed for Democratic voters – looks to me as if Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown is the only candidate who didn’t pay to be on it, as he’s the only one without an asterisk next to his name; the mailer’s fine print says “Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *”

So the mailer urges the recipient to vote for Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor. Yet when I look at Newsom’s endorsement page under the heading “public safety,” I see three firefighters’ organizations but not a single police group. His rival, however – Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn – has been endorsed by the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and several LA-area police groups.

Similarly, Democratic candidate for Attorney General Pedro Nava, an Assemblyman from Santa Barbara, is on the mailer. The only law enforcement endorsements he lists on his website are Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Ventura County Peace Officers Association, plus a few local sheriffs and police chiefs. Yet Ted Lieu, the Assemblyman from Torrance and one of Nava’s six rivals for the Democratic nomination, actually has the endorsements of the California Peace Officers Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and nine other law enforcement groups.

It’s not illegal for a candidate to pay a slate mailer for an endorsement, or for a mailer to solicit such payments. But voters should read the fine print and discern the endorsements that a candidate has bought from the endorsements that a candidate has earned.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Bill P.

    I hope that all voters, sooner rather than later, will figure out that these “Information Guides” are really nothing more than junk mail. The default position should be to vote against the “paid appearances” unless independent evidence supports them.

    I’ve seen a “VOTER INFORMATION GUIDE FOR DEMOCRATS” by Voter Information Guide of Sherman Oaks. This one includes “paid appearances” by Gavin Newsom for Lt. Gov., Alberto Torrico for Atty. Genl., and Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner. In addition “Yes on 16” and “Yes on 17” paid for their “endorsements.” The Guide apparently gave free “No on 14” and “No on 15” slots. For Contra Costa County offices, there were “paid appearances” by Gus Kramer for Assessor, Mark Peterson for District Attorney and David Livingston for Sheriff/Coroner.

    The Kramer for Assessor “paid appearance” in the Voter Information Guide says, “Endorsed by Contra Costa Water District President Joe Campbell, County Treasurer & Auditor-Controller.” I’m flabbergasted that incumbent county officials actually would endorse Kramer, who seems to be a case study in what is wrong with county government. Did the County Treasurer and Auditor-Controller really endorse Kramer? If so, they need to be “retired” and/or ousted immediately!

  • Lisa Vorderbrueggen

    Amen. I’m warning readers in my column on Sunday, too. I have a half-dozen of these mercenary mailers on my desk. Toss them. Into the recycling bin, of course.

  • Ted Lawrence

    This is really out of place and a misleading column. Slate mailers have been a California phenomenan starting early in the 20th Century because state law wouldn’t allow political parties to endorse and candidates looked for a way to get the word out about what they stood for and started combining resources. Most slates (including specifically the ones you named) are run by longtime activist who could make a lot more money in commercial mail and put these mailers out to help causes they believe in. The Cops Voter Guide has a Board that has to approve all endorsements and Voter Information Guide is published by the father of a former Democratic Assemblyman and represents the point of view of most Democratic elected officials in Sacramento. People that have a gripe with the vendors put them down, but studies have shown that slates which have been around for any length of time are probably among the most effective ways to reach voters because they develop a following and voters want to know who they support. That’s no different than what your newspaper does since I notice every time they endorse they try and sell ads to the candidate they support. Same concept.

  • Jason C

    Yeah right. The Voter Information Guide? A real public service by a Democratic activist? It says Democratic recommendations but then lists Peterson as itts “choice” for DA. Well, Peterson seems to be running as a conservative Republican. So either Peterson will say anything to get elected (which seems to be the case), or the so called Voter Information Guide is not quite the bastion of Democratic activism that Ted thinks it is.

  • Steve Talh

    Kelly Moran works closely with another political scam artist named Bill Hemby. Both have been involved with the COPS organization listed on these deceptive slate mailers.

    Mr. Hemby was actually named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Justice, as part of a nationwide sweep called “Operation False Charity.”

    Mr. Moran was caught in an embarrassing scandal related to California’s Proposition 8.

    You can find more details on how both of these belly-crawlers make hundreds of thousands of dollars by damaging our political process by visiting billhemby.com or petpac.org.

  • Tobi Dragert

    Tell us how we can make slate mailers tell the truth.