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San Francisco gears up to battle Justin Bieber

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera – already a hero to some for defending marriage rights, gun laws and the city’s universal health care ordinance – could soon cement his legal reputation with the noblest undertaking of them all: bringing the hammer down on Justin Bieber.

Bieber graffitiHerrera sent a letter Monday to executives at Def Jam Recordings and Universal Music Group – the Canadian scourge’s record label and distribution company – demanding that they cooperate in identifying and punishing those responsible for a guerrilla marketing campaign for Bieber’s new album, “Purpose,” involving stenciled, spray-painted messages on public sidewalks.

Herrera called the graffiti vandalism “illegal and actionable,” and vowed to “aggressively pursue all available penalties and costs from those responsible for lawless marketing tactics that intend to financially benefit your respective companies.”

According to Herrera’s office, San Francisco Public Works workers have been responding for several weeks to neighborhood complaints about the stenciled ads. In his letter, Herrera notes that other recent instances of illegal sidewalk advertising was chalk-based, but the Bieber-tagging looks to have been applied with permanent spray paint.

State and local laws let his office pursue civil litigation for such unlawful guerrilla marketing practices, and such lawsuits could secure court-ordered injunctions, civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation, and restitution for fees and costs if successful. Herrera’s office has successfully resolved similar violations by perpetrators including IBM, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and Zynga; past disputes also involving illegal sidewalk graffiti ads ended with financial settlements to compensate city taxpayers for all costs, civilly punish wrongdoing, and publicly discourage such illicit conduct by other would-be commercial vandals.

“This prohibited marketing practice illegally exploits our City’s walkable neighborhoods and robust tourism; intentionally creates visual distractions that pose risks to pedestrians on busy rights of way; and irresponsibly tells our youth that likeminded lawlessness and contempt for public property are condoned and encouraged by its beneficiaries – including Mr. Bieber and the record labels that produce and promote him,” Herrera wrote to Def Jam CEO Steve Bartels and Universal Music General Counsel and EVP Jeffrey Harleston.

The city certainly is grappling with… well… smellier street problems than this, but still doesn’t want the Bieb plastered all over its sidewalks at any time, and especially not during the upcoming festivities surrounding Super Bowl 50. Herrera’s letter said he’s working with the Board of Supervisors on legislation to “substantially enhance civil penalties” for illegal guerilla marketing tactics, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin already has begun drafting it.

“Graffiti abatement and prevention are important aspects of protecting the quality of life in San Francisco neighborhoods,” Peskin said in Herrera’s news release. “Unfortunately, current penalties for ‘guerrilla marketing’ graffiti seem to reflect an acceptable cost of doing business by irresponsible companies competing for consumers’ attention. It’s clear that we need to enact tougher penalties to more effectively discourage this practice.”

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DiFi urges crackdown on advertising minors for sex

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week urged the Justice Department to crack down on websites that advertise minors for prostitution.

Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., authored a section of the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act – which President Obama signed into law in May – that makes this a federal crime.

But in her letter Tuesday to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey, Feinstein wrote that she has “heard from various anti-trafficking task forces in California, and have been informed that the advertisement of minors for commercial sex continues to occur on websites such as Backpage, a website notoriously used by traffickers to advertise victims.”

“Congress and the President have made clear that sex trafficking must be stopped,” she wrote. “This cannot be done without strong action to prevent the continued advertisement of minors for commercial sex over the Internet, which fuels the continued demand for this horrific crime. I urge you to aggressively enforce the provision above, and ask that you report to me quickly what steps are being taken to do so. In my view, inaction is not an option.”

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CA17: Vanila Singh launches TV ad

Vanila Singh, a Republican candidate in the 17th Congressional District, has launched her first television advertisement:

Singh campaign manager Matt Shupe said the ad will run on cable channels from now through the June 3 election, but when pressed for details on how often it will air and the ad buy’s cost, added “it could be fluctuating.”

Singh and another Republican, Joel VanLandingham, are fighting for notice as incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Democrat Ro Khanna suck most of the oxygen out of the room with their epic, year-long battle. Khanna has run a few TV spots and a ton of online advertising; Honda has foregone TV and stuck mostly to direct mail; and VanLandingham has no money to spend on anything, after refusing to accept any campaign contributions.

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Yes on Prop. 39 pulls ads as opposition fades

The Yes on Prop. 39 campaign sort of declared victory today, announcing it would pull its television and radio ads after hearing that the companies once opposing the measure will do so no longer.

Proposition 39 would close a loophole for multi-state companies, requiring them to pay taxes based on sales in California rather than allowing them to choose how they are taxed. The state would realize about $1 billion more per year in revenue if the measure passes. Thomas Steyer, founder and co-senior managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, has put up $21.9 million to bankroll the measure.

And it looks as if it worked. The committee backing Prop. 39 today said it has been informed by General Motors, International Paper and Kimberly-Clark that they won’t oppose the measure any further. Chrysler and Procter & Gamble, the two other companies that once were part of a coalition opposed to closing the loophole, also recently stated that they would not oppose Proposition 39.

The California Business Roundtable tracking poll‘s latest numbers show Prop. 39 now has 63.1 percent support, its highest level in two months.

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Boxer goes ballistic on Spirit Airlines

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is going toe-to-toe with a Florida-based airline that’s complaining about how airfare taxes and fees must be reported.

Boxer, D-Calif., released a letter she sent today to Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza expressing “concern with Spirit Airlines’ deliberate attempt to deceive the flying public about a new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that will improve the transparency of airfares for consumers.”

At issue is a new rule that requires that all mandatory taxes and fees be disclosed to customers up front in the fares that airlines advertise to the public. That includes a segment fee of $3.80 per take-off and landing; a passenger facility charge of up to $18 roundtrip; and a Sept. 11 Security Fee of up to $10 roundtrip for travel within or from the U.S.; other fees may apply for international flights.

Here’s how Southwest Airlines explains it:

In the past, fares displayed in our advertising and on southwest.com and airtran.com included the Base Fare plus a 7.5% federal excise tax. The additional government-imposed taxes and fees were shown separately from the fare in advertising and added to the total fare at the time the reservation was priced.

With the new regulation, fares will include the Base Fare plus the 7.5% excise tax, plus all additional government-imposed taxes and fees that we collect and distribute to various government agencies.

The fare amount with all government-imposed taxes and fees included creates various dollar amounts that are difficult to use in advertising efforts; therefore we’ve decided to round up our fares to the nearest dollar for display purposes only. The rounded up fare amount will be more than what a Customer will actually pay when booking the ticket – the cost variant between the displayed fare versus the booked fare could be up to 99 cents.

At first glance, airline fares will “look” higher after the implementation of these provisions, but that is only because of the added taxes and fees that will now be included on the front end as opposed to the back end. We did not increase our air fares on Southwest or AirTran.

Put simply, travelers already are paying these taxes fees – the new rule just requires that they be disclosed sooner. Airlines can still advise their customers how much of that total cost is attributable to the government, and how much the base fare is.

But Spirit – which operates more than 175 daily flights to over 45 destinations throughout the U.S., Latin America and Caribbean, including Oakland International Airport – e-mailed customers this week and has even launched a separate website with the headline, “WARNING: New government regulations require us to hide taxes in your fares.”

“If the government can hide taxes in your airfares, then they can carry out their hidden agenda and quietly increase their taxes. (Yes, such talks are already underway),” Spirit’s website says. “And if they can do it to the airline industry, what’s next? As the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline, Spirit DOES NOT support this new USDOT mandate. We believe the better form of transparency is to break out costs so customers know exactly what they’re buying.”

Boxer, however, notes airline passenger advocacy groups like the Business Travel Coalition also are criticizing Spirit for misleading consumers about the new rule with “over-the-top fear tactics.”

And the Department of Transportation in November fined Spirit for violating federal aviation laws and Department rules prohibiting deceptive advertising in air travel. When it launched service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Spirit used billboards and hand-held posters to advertise fares of $9 each way without disclosing the additional taxes and fees. The airline also used Twitter to promote the $9 fares but required travelers to visit two separate web pages to determine the amount of the taxes and fees.

“I have been shocked by the failure of your airline to tell the truth in an email sent to your customers earlier this week as well as in warnings posted on Spirit.com that read, ‘New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” Boxer wrote in her letter today. “I urge you to immediately send a clarifying email to your customers and remove the misleading information from your website.”

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Poll numbers shift, ads launched on marriage

Days after a recent poll showed Californians becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage, the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry is rolling out a “Why Marriage Matters” national ad campaign.

The organization says the $10 million, three-year effort will be the largest-ever national public education campaign on this issue, launching Monday – Valentine’s Day – with a national cable buy on CNN. Here’s the first ad:

In partnership with local and state groups, the “Why Marriage Matters” campaign will include a variety of TV, radio, and online ads, plus a website of its own.

“Across the country the thinking of many Americans, from the president to the people next door, continues to — as President Obama put it — ‘evolve’ toward support for same-sex couples joining in the freedom to marry. Freedom to Marry’s team has crunched over a decade’s worth of polling data and field experience to crack the code on moving the reachable but not yet reached,” Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said in a news release. “By engaging friends, families, and neighbors in personal conversations about why marriage matters, each of us can help fair-minded people wrestling with a lack of information and uncertainty, and change hearts and minds.”

Freedom to Marry says its data showed that people who have had conversations with their gay and lesbian friends about why marriage matters to them are more likely to support the freedom to marry.

“As Americans see their gay and lesbian friends, families, and coworkers in loving and committed relationships, they realize there is no good reason to withhold the protections and support that only come with marriage,” said Thalia Zepatos, the group’s public engagement director. “It is as simple as the Golden Rule.”

Here in California, 52.2 percent of voters in November 2008 approved Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution to say that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” A federal judge has deemed the measure unconstitutional, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering the case.

But a recent poll indicates Californians’ minds might be changing on the issue even as the courts weigh it. A Public Policy Polling survey of 892 California voters, conducted from Jan. 28 to 30 with a 3.3 percent margin of error, found that when asked, “Do you think same sex marriage should be legal or illegal?,” 51 percent said legal, 40 percent said illegal and 10 percent said they weren’t sure. When PPP had last asked the question in September 2010, a 46 percent plurality was in support, but an almost equal 44 percent was opposed.

The poll showed Democrats remained stable, with two-thirds in support and a quarter opposed both then and now. But Republican voters moved from 76-15 opposed in the earlier poll to 64-29 in this new one; independent voters went from 47-41 to 51-35.

It’s still a generational divide, to some extent: 47 percent of senior citizens oppose same-sex marriage, while only 42 percent support it. Take them out of the poll, and support for legalization grows to 51 percent in favor, 38 percent against – indicating once again that legal acceptance of same-sex marriage may only be a matter of time.