City Hall (File photo)

By Elizabeth Van Denburgh

Election season is upon us and the piles of campaign literature will follow. While all campaign literature is paid advertising, there is a difference between literature issued by the candidate committee or the ballot measure committee and what is called a slate mailer or card.

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) states a slate mailer/card is a mass mailing of “snail” or electronic mail that supports or opposes a total of four or more candidates or ballot measures. These slate mailer/card organizations do not include: 1) a candidate/officeholder or their controlled committee 2) an official committee of any political party 3) a legislative caucus committee or a committee formed primarily to support/oppose a candidate, office holder or ballot measure.

These organizations are “for profit” companies that “imply” endorsements but have no association with political parties or with any particular conservative or liberal organization. They operate under names with affinity appeal such as California Republican Voter Guide (which has no affiliation with the Republican Party) or John F. Kennedy Alliance. These slate mailer/card organizations choose names to deceive the voting public into thinking that candidates’ and/or office holders’ names which appear on the slate mailer/card are vetted and/or endorsed by established organizations. In reality, they are negotiated with and produced by a couple of people. This is a situation where the few people associated with the slate mailer/card organization select the people and/or ballot measures to be included in their slate mailers/cards based on their assessment and money paid, not on any vetting process aligned with a responsible organization.

Candidates, office holders and ballot measures pay varying fees to be placed on the slate mailers/cards. These candidates will be denoted with an asterisk (*) and a boxed note indicating the slate mailer/card organization that received fees to place person or ballot measure on their specific mailer/card. Remember, these slate mailers/cards are not produced by political parties nor have they had any of the candidates, office holders or ballot measures vetted or in any way endorsed by reputable associations or really anyone. Often, popular state candidates/office holders are placed on the slate mailer/card to imply endorsement or affinity with them. Currently, there are 87 slate mailer/card organizations on the California Secretary of State website (Cal-Access Home; sort by slate mailers).

Each candidate, office holder and ballot measure negotiates separately with the individuals managing the slate mailer/card organization. Since these organizations can charge varying amounts for identical services, it can be the same as providing an in-kind contribution. Yet discounts offered by slate mailer/card organizations are not considered in-kind contributions to the candidate or office holder. Finally, the laws governing the slate mailer/card organizations state that they can keep any profits. This is unlike campaign funds remaining after an election which can’t be used for any personal use.

A slate mailer card organization currently advertising on the internet is voterguideslatecards.com. Check it out and remind yourself that slate mailer/card organizations are not about vetting candidates or ballot measures and are not endorsements by any recognized organization. Voterguideslatecards.com are taking reservations for the 2016 Elections for Democratic Voter Guide, Republican Voter Guide and Independent Voter Guide; none are associated with a political party. A benefit raised on the website that their listing of candidates is provided in official ballot order. This ensures you can easily vote for the candidates and/or office holders endorsed by a few individuals and based on the payment made to the slate mailer/card organization.

The best advice we can give you is to recycle slate mailers/cards and look instead to local candidate/office holder and ballot measure forums (attend live or view on YouTube).

Elizabeth Van Denburgh is a member of the Santa Monica Transparency Project. For more information about the organization, visit www.santamonicatransparency.org.