An advertisement on a campaign mailer sent to residents by the committee Californians Vote Green endorses Proposition 16, accompanied by the headline “Vote for a Greener California.” Several candidates who strongly oppose the proposition, including San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, say they were not told their advertisements would appear alongside that endorsement.
If it passes, Proposition 16 would restrict local communities from establishing or expanding public electric utilities that could compete with such commercial suppliers as PG&E, unless two thirds of residents approve. It’s been financed by PG&E to the tune of more than $28 million, which has paid for a television and radio ad blitz, as well as the mailer endorsement. The Sierra Club and other environmental advocates have scorned the measure as an underhanded attempt by the company to cement a commercial energy monopoly through the initiative process.
Gibson was not informed the Yes on 16 campaign had paid $40,000 to be included on the statewide mailer when he paid about $500 to put his advertisement on a local version of the slate card. “This is just awful, just abhorrent,” Gibson said, explaining his campaign thought the flyer would be a vehicle to get his “name out” to environmentally conscious Democrats. “I am very disappointed in the mailer. My understanding of what it was supposed to be was not this. It was a mistake to sell that space to PG&E, and a really cynical use of advertising. This does no Democrat any good. It is just confusing people,” Gibson concluded.
“The short answer is that I was tricked and lied to,” April Vargas, a candidate for supervisor in San Mateo County, wrote on a California political blog, regarding the mailer. “When I was approached [by Paul Arney from Dakota Communications] about the mailer,” she told New Times, “I was told it was environmentally minded. I asked for a list of other candidates and measures before I purchased space because I wanted to be very clear about the values I did not support. At no point was I told that Yes on 16 would have a place on the mailer. I was also never told that they retained the right to sell space to other measures.” Vargas strongly opposes Proposition 16.
The mailer also prominently features an unpaid endorsement of Jerry Brown, who’s running for governor. His campaign staff said no one informed the office Brown would be included and emphasized they do “not want people to interpret this mailer as Jerry’s endorsement of the ballot measure.”
The contact email address on the Californians Vote Green homepage is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rick Taylor is a partner at Dakota Communications, a Los Angeles-based PR firm with a lengthy corporate, political, and government client list including Home Depot, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and Obama ’08. Taylor gained notoriety in July 2007 for a leaked memo he wrote to Home Depot giving instructions on how to forge the appearance of community support for construction of a store in the Los Angeles Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood.
Taylor claimed in an interview with New Times he serves on the campaign committee Californians Vote Green personally, not as a representative of Dakota Communications. He is the “spokesperson” for the group. The campaign committee consists of a “handful” of people he said, whose identities Taylor would not disclose who, according to him, “believe in the vote of the people” as the reason why Proposition 16 appears on the mailer. “Our campaign committee is proud of the card,” he maintained. “But all it is is a piece of political mail.” When Romero’s and Vargas’ campaigns were billed for their advertisements on the mailer, the invoices came from Paul Arney at Dakota Communications.
Steve Barkan, a media consultant for Senator Gloria Romero’s campaign for superintendent of public education, said Dakota Communications contacted them about advertising and the campaign bought space because “Dakota Communications is a very reputable firm” even though it is “unfortunate” Yes on 16 appears on the mailer with their ad. “I would have a very hard time understanding a pro-environment stance on 16,” said Barkan. “More and more of these slates are out there. It really is buyer beware.” Senator Romero opposes Proposition 16. Her ad on the mailer sent statewide cost $40,000.
The contact physical address on the mailer for the group Californians Vote Green is that of the David L. Gould Company headquarters, a political consulting firm with offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. David Gould is president of the California Political Treasurers Association, as well as the legally registered Responsible Officer of the group Californians Vote Green. The website printed on the mailer, CaliforniansVoteGreen.com, links to a page that only sells ad space, and contains no information on any environmental issues. Gould declined to comment.
Gould’s phone number is also the contact on a run of two separate mailers presented as voting guides in San Diego County in late October 2005. One was labeled “Democratic Voters Choice” and the other was a Republican version with identical endorsements titled “Citizens for Good Government.” Both featured candidates who had paid to appear on the mailers, as well as some who did not, alongside a call to vote NO on a proposition for state assistance to low-income children for the purchase of prescription drugs, and YES on a proposition financed solely by the PhRMA California Initiative Fund (paid for by more than 30 pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, and Merck) directly in opposition to the California Democratic Party’s official stance. According to the Slate Mailer Organization Campaign Statement, the PhRMA California Initiative Fund paid $45,000 for advertising on both versions of the mailer.
Lorena Gonzales, a Democrat who ran for supervisor of a San Diego district, was featured on the mailer against her knowledge. Her brother, Marco Gonzales, who represents the Surfrider Foundation, filed a complaint with the city’s Ethics Commission but no charges have been filed against Gould. ∆
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