Election season is upon us, and the piles of campaign literature will follow in addition to banner ads, Facebook ads and Google display ads.  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 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), Democratic Voters Choice (which has no affiliation with the Democratic Party) or COPS Voter Guide Inc. (which has no affiliation with any police organization). 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. 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.  Slate mailers list various candidates and leave the impression that they all stand together on a particular party or issue. Often, that is just not the case.

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 a 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 94 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 negotiate 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 caslates.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.  Caslates.com is taking reservations for four voter guides and management of caslates.com determines who is put into them based on negotiated payment: Parents for Progress, Non-Partisan Voter Guide, Voter Guide California, Justice and Seniors Voter Resource.

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 recordings).  The next Santa Monica City Council Candidates forum will be via Zoom on October 6, from 7 – 9 p.m.  Find the Zoom link on the websites of the six Santa Monica neighborhoods planning the forum (www.friendsofsunsetpark.org, www.smnoma.org, www.pnasantamonica.wordpress.com, www.midcityneighbors.org, www.nenneighbors.org, www.wilmont.org).  A recording of the forum will be posted on these websites to review after the event.

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