For the most part, California politics don’t rise to (or sink to, depending on your perspective) the corrupt heights (sleazy depths) that they do in, say, Illinois or New York. Which is to say, while California may have produced its share of rascals, bums, and incompetents over the years, I can’t think of a single governor here who’s been indicted in the past half-century or who’s been outed as a John.
Still, we have our moments, such as those provided every election season by slate mailers. What’s a slate mailer, you ask? They’re cleverly crafted direct-mail pieces that endorse a list of candidates and issues. If you don’t look at them hard, you might think you’re looking at the official word from your party about who and what it endorses. That’s because you’ll see well-known party figures in their predictable spots at the head of the ticket listed with both statewide initiatives and local candidates and measures. Since voter registration rolls are public information, slate cards go out to voters who have declared a party affiliation. So Democratic voters get slate cards listing Democratic candidates and issues, and Republicans get the GOP cards.
But rarely are the parties actually speaking through the slate mailers. Instead, they’re the work of political pros who have turned slate mailers into an industry; a lucrative one, apparently, given the persistence of the practice. They may list statewide candidates who are unopposed or virtually so–Jerry Brown, for instance, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for governor in next month’s primary. That makes the piece look like a party slate. Alongside those names, they’ll list candidates in contested races who have paid to appear on the same list with the big names.
Over the weekend, we got one of the all-time best (sleaziest) mailers I’ve ever seen. It bears the legend “Californians Vote Green” and urges recipients to “Vote for a Greener California.” It depicts a scene from one of our fast-vanishing primeval woodlands. The question I had when I first saw it was whether it was from the Green Party. Then I looked inside. Yep, a list of candidates. Most had asterisks next to their names, and the fine print explained that meant they had paid their way onto the list.
But the real surprise was in the list of ballot propositions the mailer suggested “Californians Vote Green” endorsed–particularly Proposition 16. That’s a constitutional amendment bought and paid for by Pacific Gas & Electric Company that aims to make it virtually impossible for local communities to set up competing power districts. PG&E actually supported the 2002 law that permitted communities to create their own utility districts. But with the law’s concept becoming reality–Marin County has managed to get a community power district up and running this year despite PG&E’s efforts to undermine it–the utility has had a change of heart about competition. It not only wrote the new constitutional language in Prop. 16 and paid for the petition drive that got it on the ballot, it’s spending more than $30 million to get it passed.
In fact, a vast majority of environmental groups that have anything to say about Prop. 16 say they’re against it. The California Democratic Party has recommended a no vote. Many liberal (read “green”) Democratic legislators have condemned PG&E’s campaign. And voters who want a “greener California” ought to know that in fighting the Marin power district, PG&E is actively trying to scuttle a competitor set up expressly to provide cleaner electricity (using more renewable sources like wind and solar) than PG&E sells. But none of that prevented PG&E or its Prop. 16 cronies from buying a spot on the “green” mailer.
The California Secretary of State records say the PG&E-financed Yes on 16 committee paid $40,000 to Californians Vote Green for its spot on the slate card. To put that in perspective, the No on 16 side has raised a total of about $50,000 for its entire campaign. (That having been said, $40,000 is a cheap date for the Yes on 16 campaign. To date, it’s spent $630,000 for slate mailers targeting voters of both parties, including $200,000 to California Voter Guide, which has been churning out slate cards since 1986).
Let’s not drop “Californians Vote Green” matter without a tip of the hat to those responsible. If you check out the CVG website, it advises that if you want to purchase placement, you ought to contact rtaylor@californiansvotegreencom. “rtaylor” is Rick Taylor, a long-time Los Angeles hired gun who is now a partner in a firm called Dakota Communications. Check out the pictures of prominent clients on the site. I’d call the outfit connected.
If you feel like sharing your opinion of his handiwork with Californians Vote Green, you might give him a call at 310 815 8444.