My Word by Andrew Bird
POSTED: 05/19/2006 04:27:35 AM PDT0 COMMENTS
UPDATED: 05/19/2006 04:27:35 AM PDT
Measure T has a major problem: Without an accompanying legislative fix, the measure is likely to encourage more of a particularly sleazy type of campaign ad that it seeks to ban.
Measure T is the initiative that Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights qualified for the June ballot. It seeks to ban non-local companies and organizations from contributing to local campaigns.
The ballot argument for Measure T cites a series of cloak-and-dagger hit ads that targeted Chris Kerrigan in the 2004 Eureka City Council race as a reason to vote yes.
The sad fact is, because of a particularly onerous state appellate court ruling that the Legislature has failed to correct, if Measure T passes we are likely to see more of these ads in local campaigns. And local authorities would be powerless to stop them.
This is because the court ruling, which allows such campaigners to remain secret, would usurp any local law.
Late in the 2004 Eureka City Council campaign, a series of very negative ads -- slick mailbox brochures and television spots -- targeted Chris Kerrigan, blaming him for just about every problem Humboldt County faces.
The ads were signed by “Eureka Coalition for Jobs.” No individual names were signed to any of them.
I was a reporter for this newspaper at the time. We quickly learned that Eureka Coalition for Jobs was not a registered campaign committee. Next, we tracked the ads to an influential Sacramento lobbyist -- Wayne Ordos, a former executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, or FPPC, the state agency that enforces California campaign law.
Ordos had been paid to hire a San Francisco agency to create and place the ads. However, Ordos refused to reveal who had paid him.
Full of vim and vinegar, I demanded of Ordos how he figured he could get away with violating California's Political Reform act, the law that requires campaign committees to register with the secretary of state.
Ordos, a polite man, gave me a crash course in the current state of campaign law in California.
In 2001, an out-of-state group calling itself “American Taxpayers Alliance” started running a series of television ads sharply critical of Gov. Gray Davis. The ads blamed Davis for the state's energy crisis, and coined the term “grayouts.”
As it was a year before Davis was up for re-election, the ads did not advocate a vote for or against Davis. Nevertheless, the Davis campaign sued in an attempt to force the group to reveal its backers. A San Francisco Superior Court judge sided with the Davis campaign.
But the California Court of Appeals, 1st District, sided with the American Taxpayers Alliance, in a ruling that opined so-called “issue advocacy” ads are protected by the First Amendment and that forcing the group to reveal itself would have a chilling effect on free speech. (The Governor Gray Davis Committee v. American Taxpayers Alliance, A096658.)
Ordos used this ruling to justify keeping “Eureka Coalition for Jobs” under a cloak. To this day, the cloak has never been lifted.
Indeed, the Eureka Coalition for Jobs ads did not advise a vote for or against Kerrigan. But they were exceedingly deceitful, mendaciously accusing Kerrigan of being responsible for the North Coast's economic woes.
This newspaper filed a complaint with the FPPC, seeking to force Ordos to register “Eureka Coalition for Jobs” as a campaign committee, thereby revealing those who paid for the ads. The complaint pointed out a huge difference between Davis in 2001 and Kerrigan in 2004: Kerrigan was a candidate and the election was less than a week away when the ads first appeared.
But the FPPC sided with Ordos, refusing to act on the complaint.
Also in 2004, State Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from Shafter who'd had an experience similar to Kerrigan's, introduced Senate Bill 36, which sought to close this loophole.
At this newspaper's request, North Coast Assemblywoman Patty Berg signed onto the bill as principal coauthor. However, SB 36 was drafted as an “urgency” measure, which would have made it effective immediately, and it failed to muster the required two-thirds vote in the Senate last summer.
I understand what the supporters of Measure T are trying to accomplish. But without a legislative fix that has passed court muster, Measure T would encourage those who are shut out of open campaigning to hide behind a front man and sling the sleaze, like the Eureka Coalition for Jobs did against Kerrigan.
I am for more local control in local elections, too. But not at the risk of more of this most vulgar type of campaigning in Humboldt County.
Andrew Bird, a former Times-Standard reporter, is a Eureka resident.
The opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times-Standard.
NO mention of course of all Richard Salzman's groups - Alliance for Ethical Business, etc. No mention of Humboldt Watershed Council's "Fraud is not a victimless crime" ads... Richard knows how to play this game, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.
"They all do it" What are you upset about?