CITYWIDE — A neighborhood organization leader called on candidates supported by a developer-backed group to repudiate a recent mailer which some felt co-opted the organization’s name for political gain.
Gregg Heacock, president of the Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, implored candidates Shari Davis, Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day to publicly denounce a mailer by Santa Monicans for a Responsible Future (SMURF) that read “Mid City neighbors support:” followed by the candidates’ images and names.
That lower case “n” isn’t enough of a distinction for Heacock.
The mailer is problematic for the group because it implies that Mid City Neighbors actively endorses the four candidates, which it cannot do as a nonprofit organization, Heacock said.
Some residents have been confused by the mailer, believing that the group has taken sides in a fight that it cannot enter, Heacock said.
“It compromises us in the sense that we have to go to the state and say that we don’t endorse anyone, but people in town say that we have,” Heacock said.
The matter is further complicated by Heacock’s project to pass along information about candidate forums and meet-and-greets — just not fundraisers — in an attempt to involve more people in the election process.
“We’re not advertising, we’re just doing these as public events,” he said. “When this comes up, it compromises us and makes it look as though the group is advocating.”
The mailers are not meant to suggest that neighborhood organizations support or do not support any candidate, said Adam Englander, a publicist for SMURF.
In fact, roughly the same mailer was sent out to residents all over the city, with slightly different text depending on the neighborhood.
“Any mailer that SMURF has sent out has not claimed endorsements of any neighborhood groups, nor did any of these neighborhood mailers,” Englander said.
Englander’s firm arrived at the conclusion that each of the candidates were supported by individuals in each of the neighborhoods by examining their endorsements list, he said.
Mary Marlow, of the Ocean Park Association, doesn’t buy it. The mailers are just another example of well-funded independent expenditures campaigning off of the reputations of neighborhood groups, she said.
“The neighborhood associations in (Santa Monica) have worked long and hard on big issues facing (Santa Monica) — including overdevelopment and traffic, not the values falsely ascribed in these mailers so the reputations of the groups themselves are being negatively impacted by this message and by endorsements none of them has or would make,” she said.
The four candidates sent out a joint statement when SMURF first began sending out mailers acknowledging the outside group’s support and their utter lack of control.
They each reiterated that sentiment on Halloween, some on their way to festive events around town.
Ted Winterer, a planning commissioner and slow-growth candidate, said that while he had no affiliation with SMURF, he understood how difficult it was for community members to sort through the mixed messages.
“As a former president of the Ocean Park Association, I understand that neighborhood organizations cannot be involved in electioneering and so it is deeply disturbing that SMURF literature implies that Mid City Neighbors or any other neighborhood organization support SMURF’s efforts,” Winterer said.
People can protect themselves from misleading messaging efforts by reading the name on each mailer, flyer or handout and checking under the hood, said Joanne Leavitt, president of the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica.
“One thing I would say is to look for transparency,” Leavitt said.
She praised SMURF not for the message, which she did not comment on, but for the tote bag that has been handed out around town which clearly states who’s funding the group.
“Some you have no idea who’s funding them,” she said. “Those are the ones I don’t pay attention to.”
The League of Women Voters puts out recommendations for voters. Those interested at the local level can check out the issues at the City Hall site smvote.org and additional information on state contests and issues can be found at Votersedge.org, Leavitt said.