Napa Democrats are in a tizzy over a paid slate mailer purporting to be a voter information guide for Democrats.
A two-page mailer titled “Voter Information Guide for Democrats” flooded Napa County mailboxes this week urging voters to support a slate of state and local candidates. Among them, the mailer recommends Gavin Newsom for lieutenant governor and Alberto Torrico for attorney general. It also urges a ‘yes’ vote on state propositions 16 and 17.
These recommendations surprised local Democratic leaders, since the official California Democratic Party never endorsed anyone for lieutenant governor or attorney general. What’s more, the Democratic Party formally opposes propositions 16 and 17.
In addition, the mailer endorses four local candidates running unopposed in the June 8 countywide election—superintendent of schools, auditor-controller, district attorney and sheriff. The Democrats of Napa Valley never took any position on any of those races.
“It calls itself the voter information guide for Democrats, and the implication is that it is in fact a Democratic Party publication,” Democrats of Napa Valley President Joanne Gifford said Wednesday. “It is not endorsed by the California Democratic Party nor the local Democratic Party, and we don’t want people to have the wrong idea about what we’d like them to support in this election.”
The Sherman Oaks address listed at the bottom of the mailer points instead to Democratic political consultant Larry Levine, and three of the candidates recommended on the mailer are listed as having paid for the endorsement: Newsom, Torrico and state insurance commissioner candidate Dave Jones. The yes on Proposition 16 and 17 campaigns also helped pay for the mailer, according to a small footnote at the bottom of one page.
Other candidates on the mailer — such as Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and each of the four listed county candidates — are not listed on the mailer as having paid.
The mailer lists “no recommendation” for state Senate and Assembly.
While controversial, paid slate mailers are considered a legitimate campaign tool.
State law requires the true nature of slates to be explained on the mailers themselves. Voters must be told that the endorsements are not those of the official political party organization and that candidates marked with an asterisk paid to be included.
The mailer that showed up in Napa County mailboxes does both of those things. But Gifford says it doesn’t do it well enough, and she’s taking her complaint to a Sacramento watchdog agency in charge of monitoring campaigns.
Gifford said she is filing a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that “the disclosure on this document does not meet the stands, as I see them, that the text of that disclosure be in high contrast over the background.”
The white text of the mailer’s disclosure, partially overlaid against the backdrop of a white bald eagle, is too difficult to read, Gifford said.
“They will obviously make their own judgment as to whether the contrast is sufficient,” Gifford said. “I think it fails to meet that.”
In the meantime, Gifford is warning voters to look closely at the origins or their political mailers in the days leading up to the June 8 election.
“People need to be really careful when they get this stuff in the mail to look at the source and make sure there’s not an implication of an affiliation with a group that they perhaps respect when it doesn’t really exist,” Gifford said.
Levine did not return calls seeking comment.