IE Attack Ads Render Candidates Irrelevant in Many Local Races

Stupid local laws and the rise of unfettered independent expenditure committees are making a mockery of the election process. Candidates are no longer in control of their own messages and in many local races they are not relevant to the debate.

Mountain View is just the latest example of this farce. Candidates are saddled with a "voluntary" expenditure limit of $22,689. The word voluntary is for legal purposes, as Mountain View cannot constitutionally restrict campaign spending. But woe to any candidate who does not agree to the spending cap—outside of the San Jose mayor's race. The bad press for "spending" would likely doom most candidates. (Full disclosure: I did some volunteer work on Ellen Kamei’s campaign.)

Independent Expenditure committees are able to spend unlimited funds, and candidates are not allowed to coordinate with them on messaging. Those unauthorized messages sometimes help, but more times they hurt their preferred candidate. Regardless of whether they assist or harm a contender, the sheer volume of messages can drown out a candidate's attempts to communicate with the electorate. Candidates’ messages simply get lost in the avalanche of unlimited campaign spending by these independent committees.

The problem isn't limited to Mountain View. The mayoral and council candidates in San Jose are subject to the same restrictions. Candidates, whether they like it or not, must live with the messages sent on their behalf by special interests. And most voters are blissfully unaware of who sends out the information. In fact, they often assume the candidate for whom the missive is supposed to help is the author.

More often than not, the local "hit" piece in a voter’s mailbox, comes not from a candidate but from an independent expenditure committee. But negative mail does not win elections; it simply makes voters less likely to participate in the electoral process. This is a major reason why we expect the lowest mid-term voter turnout ever Nov. 4.

Sadly, many political consultants still haven't realized that negative mail actually hurts their own candidate. But you can see it in the polling and in the declining voter turnout for elections. Besides, bypassing client permission to send out negative information on a political opponent is nirvana for some pols.

To end this idiocy, we need to get rid of expenditure limits for candidates, with the caveat that all who donate to the campaign will be posted in real time on a website.   Transparency is the key. Voters and more importantly, their opponents, would know who is really funding the campaign.

In the final analysis, it is buyer beware for voters. They will have to take responsibility for evaluating information which, surprise, is not always truthful.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

14 Comments

  1. Rich, I actually agree with you, except the problem is not expenditures. The problem is limits on contributions. If Dave or Sam can get $1,100 a pop, but Cortese then gets $34,000 from out of state special interests then the people with the power are not candidates but allied committees who can bundle these super donations. Labor has spent hundreds of thousands of these races far outstripping what local candidates can do. Look what these guys did to Rose 2 years ago.

  2. To be fair, Sam gets more out of town support than Cortese and in higher amounts, not that out of town support matters as San Jose is a regional hub. But neither candidate can control what other folks are doing–which is the major point.

  3. Rich has a lot of credibility to present this as he has decades of experience in doing quality mailers. But let us examine the greatest example of IE abuse

    SILICION VALLEY FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE SUPPORTING MAGDELENA CARRASCO AND OPPOSING XAVIER CAMPOS.

    133, 000 DOLLARS OF MAILING, AS THEY SAY IN THEIR FILINGS.

    President Bobby “The No Brain” Lopez and Garry “Greasy Thumbs” Crummitt.

    As of this date, SV VALLEY has a 33,000 outstanding debt and has refused to file a report required by law. The money raised by Kevin deLeon, currently under investigation by the FBI, and a state senator once “married” to Magdelena Carrasco, was deposited in the NEIGHBORHOOD EMPOWERMENT COMMITTEE in Sacramento from Indian Gaming and PGE, and the Laborers (employers of Chris “Mad Dog” Stampolis, and Hoffa wannabee Boilermakers VP T.Baca, who is paid 687,000 dollars a year, the highest of any union official in North America.

    Paid was John Shallman, an officer of the NEC, also run by “Greasy Thumbs” Crummit, who spent the money in a state committee in one chunk to the IE committee of Silicon Valley Fraternal Order.

    Ps, as a side note, Carrasco and deLeon also receive money from a group called Two Countries One Voice, and independent PAC run by Fabian Nunez of Mercury Public Affairs.

    So you see, Rich, under the present law, Assad of Syria can form Syrian Makers for Peace and collect money to give to Boxer, Mitt Romney, or Jerry Brown if he uses an IE committee, Americans for Truth.

  4. > Stupid local laws and the rise of unfettered independent expenditure committees are making a mockery of the election process.

    I’ll probably suffer a self-esteem crisis and end up hating myself, but I might have to actually agree with you.

    But I doubt that the problem is limited to just “stupid local laws”. There are stupid state laws and stupid federal laws.

    The problem is the good government progressives just can’t stand someone else saying something about a candidate or an issue without the correct progressive editorializing or interpretation (i.e. “spin”).

    Nothing can trigger a progressive seizure of sneering and snorting faster than a kind word about the Supreme Court’s
    “Citizen’s United” decision, whereby the Supremes held that a group of people (a “corporation”) has free speech rights because, after all, a group of people are (is?) … well … PEOPLE!

    I have long been troubled by laws that regulate campaign activities, including especially campaign contributions.

    Money is speech. If you want to convince yourself of this, take a big wad of money and buy a newspaper.

    Pinch Sulzberger can say things that most Americans probably can’t say, like, “gay marriage is a wonderful thing”.

    Brendan Eich CAN’T say (or contribute to a campaign that says) “gay marriage isn’t a wonderful thing”. He could be fired from his job. He could even be accused of aiding and abetting “hate crimes”.

    If he wants to share his views broadly with the public, he needs to scrape together a wad of money and buy his own newspaper. (This is assuming that Lois Lerner’s IRS doesn’t audit him.)

    The vast majority of Americans CAN’T buy a newspaper to exercise their free speech rights.

    One of the few avenues of free speech available to most citizens is making contributions to political candidates or campaigns that articulate their points of view.

    When governments make laws that limit when, where, how much and to whom a citizen may contribute, those limits are EXACTLY equivalent to limits on speech.

    Sayeth Rich:

    > To end this idiocy, we need to get rid of expenditure limits for candidates, with the caveat that all who donate to the campaign will be posted in real time on a website. Transparency is the key. Voters and more importantly, their opponents, would know who is really funding the campaign.

    > In the final analysis, it is buyer beware for voters. They will have to take responsibility for evaluating information which, surprise, is not always truthful.

    Yes. But. I still may not be completely on board with your “transparency” requirement.

    Brendan Eich was “transparent” and got hammered for it.

    Explain to me how Rich Robinson’s reforms will protect the Brendan Eich’s of the world.

  5. Wouldn’t the easier solution be to ban candidate political advertising that did not flow through the committee of one of the candidates?

    For example, the pubic employee unions spend LOTS of money one local races because they can use money collected from member’s dues to form PACs. In fact, the California Teachers Association is the biggest political spender in the state and has been for more than a decade. Number 2 is SEIU, another public employee union. Local police and fire unions are also big spenders.

    Local candidates who wish to remain independent of unions often have trouble matching that level of spending even when there are no spending limits.

    The CTA has such a stranglehold on California politics that I doubt that change would every be made, but I’d like to see every dollar spent for or against a candidate come only from the candidate’s committee. No hiding behind IEs.

  6. Wouldn’t the easier solution be to ban candidate political advertising that did not flow through the committee of one of the candidates?
    For example, the public employee unions spend LOTS of money one local races because they can use money collected from member’s dues to form PACs. In fact, the California Teachers Association is the biggest political spender in the state and has been for more than a decade. Number 2 is SEIU, another public employee union. Local police and fire unions are also big spenders.
    Local candidates who wish to remain independent of unions often have trouble matching that level of spending even when there are no spending limits.
    The CTA has such a stranglehold on California politics that I doubt that change would every be made, but I’d like to see every dollar spent for or against a candidate come only from the candidate’s committee. No hiding behind IEs.

  7. I believe it was the Warren Court which ruled that doing an ACT (contributing money to a political candidate) was SPEECH, this country slid down the slippery slope that led us to Citizens United. Until a subsequent court rules that acts are acts and speech is speech and never the twain shall meet, we will be bedeviled by elections being mostly controlled by money, rather than good ideas and ability.

    • > Until a subsequent court rules that acts are acts and speech is speech and never the twain shall meet, we will be bedeviled by elections being mostly controlled by money, rather than good ideas and ability.

      Don’t worry. The courts are getting there.

      Wearing an American flag T-shirt on Cinco de Mayo is apparently an “act” and not “speech”, and therefore not protected.

  8. “(Full disclosure: I did some volunteer work on Ellen Kamei’s campaign.)” ….Hmm didn’t this candidate disclose paying $17,000 for services from Robinson Communications?

    Darn Mountain View voluntary caps…. thank god for the Santa Clara Water District and that sex.com guy.

  9. Real time posting of campaign contributions sounds great, but what if a contributor misstates his occupation and employer? If some general counsel making $1 million/year working for Chevron or PG&E also coaches a high school sport or works a cash register at his wife’s store during the holidays, does he get to identify himself as “soccer coach” or “sales clerk”? Who enforces that requirement against an individual contributor, as opposed to a candidate campaign?

  10. Vacancy Vaquero–with thinking like that, you should become a campaign consultant.

  11. Interesting that Rich Robinson mentioned Mountain View. We’ve been deluged with independent expenditures from a group called “Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition”. That group has also spent “independent” funds for Gary Kremen (sex.com founder running for Water Board). While Mountain View has one of these “stupid” cap, the Water Board doesn’t. Clearly, lifting these voluntary spending caps will not result in less independent expenditures…it will only result in more money lining up the spin doctors’ pockets.

  12. Robinson wasn’t just a volunteer Kamei paid him close to 18k!!!

    – NEC’s treasurer Gary Crummitt has 2 violations and 1 warning from the FPPC this year alone! see here: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.php?id=353

    – in addition, NEC also paid 5,000 dollars to Barry Wyatt Associates
    – Barry Wyatt Associates was until recently (it’s still in Google’s cache) part of Robinson Communication’s team see here:
    – and guess who’s running Kremen’s water district campaign…. Rich Robinson
    – Ellen Kamei also used Robinson. She paid Robinson close to 18,000.00 (according to her campaign)for that awful mailer. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:19js0-FC6qoJ:www.robinsonwins.com/wordpress/about/our-team/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
    – There is a NEC mailer supporting her regarding traffic and then she sends out that mailer about traffic that was created by essentially the same people.
    -Gary Kremen and Ellen Kamie share an office space and are having their election night party together.

    This is all making sense.

    WOW. This is bad.

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