CITY HALL — Two environmental organizations are calling for a formal apology after their logos appeared on election materials put out by Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth without the groups’ permission.
Both the California League of Conservation Voters and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters say that their logos were used improperly on election materials that went out last week in support of City Council candidates Richard McKinnon and Ted Winterer.
The California League of Conservation Voters doesn’t take positions on Santa Monica races, said David Allgood, political director for the California League.
“It was shocking to see our logo endorsing candidates I’ve never heard from,” Allgood said.
Jonathan Parfrey, president of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, said that his organization had endorsed Ted Winterer alongside Shari Davis, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day for the council.
The piece made it look as though McKinnon had also received his organization’s support, which was untrue.
“The timing of it is highly suspicious,” Parfrey said. “Right before the election. Santa Monicans are strongly pro-environmental. You have one candidate saying they received an endorsement, and they haven’t. One might say it’s a dirty trick.”
The Los Angeles group is looking at all legal options, he said.
The three election pieces were put out by Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), an independent expenditure committee that formed this year.
Susan Scarafia, co-chair of SMRG, said Sunday that the organization never intended to put out false or misleading information, and that their political consultant, Sue Burnside, had printed the materials without their approval.
Scarafia and her co-chair, Ivan Perkins, reviewed the materials and sent in changes removing the California League logo because they did not have written permission to include it. She believed they would receive another draft, which never happened.
“She printed what we expressly asked her not to print,” Scarafia said.
Burnside acknowledged the error in an e-mail Monday.
“In the haste of preparing final mail pieces ahead of Tuesday’s election, I inadvertently printed versions that had not been fully approved and vetted. I regret the oversight and apologize for this unfortunate error. This was my mistake alone, and should not reflect on the candidates referenced in the mailer,” Burnside wrote.
Burnside knows both groups, and the idea that it was just a mistake “begs credulity,” Parfrey said.
The issue was revealed to the two leagues last week by Barbara Grover, a political consultant working on campaigns for other council candidates.
“I believe SMRG has a responsibility to set the record straight and they have refused to do so,” Grover said.
It might have a legal responsibility to do so.
There are no election code provisions regarding the use of logos, but law concerning trademarks, libel and even unfair business practices could potentially come into play, depending on the facts of the case, said Beverly Grossman Palmer, an associate at the Los Angeles lawfirm Strumwasser & Woocher LLP.
“They could be subject to damages in a civil proceeding, even punitive damages if they show that what they have done was done knowingly with the intent to deceive regarding the league’s position on these candidates,” Palmer said.
The candidates themselves only found out about the problem after the mailers went out. By law, they cannot work with independent expenditure committees putting out materials for them, which has caused many in both local and national elections to raise red flags about the increased use of outside money.
“It’s deeply regrettable that SMRG’s political consultant chose to put the California League of Conservation Voters logo on their materials without the knowledge of the individuals behind the (campaign),” Winterer said. “It was wrong to do so.”
Winterer, who did win the Los Angeles League endorsement, just wants Santa Monicans to go to the polls and vote on the issues, not the drama.
“I hope that voters will not find this last minute distraction confusing, and will vote for me on Tuesday based on my record,” Winterer said.
McKinnon said that he had nothing to do with the hangers, and will instead continue the campaign efforts he does have a hand in — phone calls, knocking on doors and e-mail blasts.
“There’s money in politics that candidates can’t control,” McKinnon said. “I’m looking at all of this and it’s got nothing to do with me.”
The California League sent out an e-mail to its membership to correct the mistake, but the leadership is concerned that the damage may already be done.
The “kerfuffle,” as some are calling it, is just one more dust up in a campaign that has been flush with outside funds and the allegedly misleading ads they bring.
Another group, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, caused a stir last week by issuing mailers specific to each neighborhood that read “Ocean Park neighbors support:” and then the name of the candidate.
Some recipients believed that the group was trying to imply that neighborhood organizations had endorsed their slate of candidates, although a spokesperson said that was not the case.
SMRG itself has raised some eyebrows by accepting a $25,000 donation from a computer firm in Nevada and, most recently, $10,000 from a pilates group in Encino, Calif.
Another candidate, Frank Gruber, also accused their paid campaign workers of going door-to-door claiming to be volunteers.
The committee was insistent on transparency throughout, and is dismayed by the recent problems, Perkins said.
“The point was no misrepresentation,” he said.
The ruckus has caused some to try to stay above the fray altogether, and keep things truly local.
“The frenzied messaging we are seeing tells us that a lot is riding on this election and big developer money is turning our election into a circus, so we need to talk to our neighbors and neighborhood associations if we want to know what is true versus what is hype,” said Tricia Crane, chair of Northeast Neighbors, a local community group.
Unauthorized use of logos isn’t unheard of in Santa Monica.
In 2010, the group Santa Monicans for Quality Government released a piece that included logos from the Police Officers Association and Community for Excellent Public Schools without permission from either group.
The two organizations had endorsed all of the candidates on the mailer, however.