Finding Truth in Political Ads

Here comes the plethora of mail, radio, television, emails, blogs, YouTube ads and Facebook posts designed to win over the uninformed, the misinformed, the naive, and the truly rare undecided voter.

The vast majority of voters who claim to be tired and sickened by negative advertising are routinely dismissed. This information is not meant for you—the reason you get these messages is a result of “spillage,” the in-artful term used to describe advertising messages designed for a target market that gets seen or heard by people outside the demographic such marketing is intended.

These messages are important, believe it or not. Many voters simply do not have the time to play an active role in looking up the positions, issues and records of the politicians for whom they must vote. But caveat emptor; democracy is a participatory sport—please ensure what you are reading, hearing and seeing is the truth.

It takes very little time or effort to validate information in today’s world. Unlike commercial advertising, there is not “truth in advertising laws” in political spots. Many people don’t know this and assume that if something is untrue it can’t be printed or shown on TV. Political speech, even though deceitful and sometimes hateful, is allowed under the Constitution, as we just saw from Mitt Romney in last night’s debate. That’s why it is important to critically evaluate the messages you are receiving.

The most important standard is truth: Is the information true, regardless of who is providing it? Facts are easily Googled. If a candidate says crime went up or the incumbent voted for special interest legislation, it is easily confirmed. Please vote against people who lie with the facts.

Distinguish between facts and opinion. Whether the crime rate went up is a fact. Whether a person is “soft on crime” is an opinion. Opinions may be drawn from facts, but it is important to understand not all opinions have supporting facts. A good ad will give you facts and let you draw your own conclusion. But know the difference.

Is this the whole story? If the President is accused of causing the nation’s bond rating to go lower, go online and read how such an occurrence happened. You will find only one bond rating company that lowered the nation’s rating; more importantly, you will note it was not the President, but the Republicans in congress who caused the crisis. Read the whole story.

Is the information relevant to the office being sought? Once there was a candidate for Assessor in another county who failed to pay his property taxes on time. For that office such information may be relevant, but who really who cares if somebody was late paying their taxes? Different story if they didn’t pay at all. If a candidate committed a felony it is usually relevant. If they filed bankruptcy, what were the circumstances? There are no perfect people running for office; everybody has something in their past that is not flattering. It is the totality of character that counts, not usually a single incident.

Also note who is funding the ad. Many times politicians are blamed for messages they did not create or endorse. If the mailer comes from a committee, find out who funded the committee. If it is insurance and big oil, take that information into account. They don’t support issues that don’t directly benefit them. That said, remember rule No. 1: Is it the truth?

Not all positive information is the truth and not all truth is positive. Evaluate positive information just as critically as if it were a “negative” ad. Some people lie on their resume—even in the private sector. If they do so as a candidate, don’t vote for them.

Finally, politicians are a reflection of our society. Most people are generally honest and have good values, even if you disagree with them on issues. However, there are those candidates who run for office who don’t belong near the public trough. A little effort on the part of voters and most of these people would never be elected.

At the end of the day, it is the voters who are most responsible for the current crop of officeholders, the policies being advanced and the even the tone of our elections. If lying didn’t work, candidates wouldn’t use the tactic. Like I said, the truth isn’t always positive.

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.


  1. Rich

    You are so timely with your posts. 

    I think you would be fantastic as a political analyst on NBC3!!

    Chris Stampolis who frequently comments on this blog has been the victim of an attack advertisement that virtually says he is a dangerous person.  Stampolis is a candidate for Santa Clara Unified.


    That ad appeared in the Santa Clara Weekly.

    Paid for by Committee to Save Santa Clara Schools by Opposing Chris Stampolis.

    It has no material facts in the advertisement which I understand was the work of several political professionals.

    I already informed the FPPC.

    The title implies, Stampolis, who is president of a local league, has some dangerous aspects to him that would cause him to be barred from our schools.

    Advertisement is supporting JAMES VAN PERNIS, ELICE DE YOUNG, AND ALBERT GONZALEZ who all publicly support the advertisement, which has authorized by current Santa Clara school board members, Raterman and Canova, and put together by West Valley Board members Buck Polk, Jack Lucas, and Chad Walsh.

    I checked the STATE CAMPAIGN CODE OF ETHICS.  The candidates Van Pernis, De Young, and Gonzalez are in violation of this state guideline and should consider withdrawing from the race.  Van Pernis is the husband of the Secretary of the Superintendent, Bobbie Plough, who also endorsed the creation of the advertisement.

    It states Stampolis dissents.  Is that wrong?

    As far as I am concerned, SHAME ON VAN PERNIS, SHAME ON DE YOUNG, SHAME ON GONZALEZ, and if our group finds out if there was another campaign involved, we will tie this ad to them.

    Rich, bless you for your smarts, and your excellent timing.  You are a local gem.  Hot Coffee and Cinammon Rolls are on me if you ever come through Santa Clara.

  2. I’m disgusted by the dirty, ugly politics being played by the supporters of Santa Clara Unified school board incumbents Elise DeYoung and Albert Gonzalez, and Jim Van Pernis (who is the HUSBAND of the school district superintendent’s secretary. So if elected he would be the boss of his wife’s boss.)

    Shame on them.  Bracher Parent is right – they are trying to get elected using unethical means. Why don’t they present their plan for the future of the school district? Whey don’t they tell us how they will improve student achievement?  Help Latino students and other students who are not proficient in English and math? Voters are tired of the dirty campaigning.  If they have nothing positive to offer, then why are they running for office?  Why are they so afraid of the newcomers running for the school board?  They want to keep it just their old Santa Clara club – well, that doesn’t serve the parents and it sure doesn’t serve the taxpayers.

    Clearly, the school district needs to hire the City of Santa Clara’s ethics consultant and adopt the city’s code of campaign ethics. Now.

    Also – you forgot that board member Bordenave (who has been on the board for 20 + years) also signed the ad.  Shame on Ratermann, Canova (also on the board for 20+ years – why aren’t there any term limits in this district?), and Bordenave – they’re trying to keep their board majority which votes for whatever Ratermann and the administration want and doesn’t give a rip about what parents want.

    Rich – thank you for this article.  It could not be more timely.

    • The fact is that several retired school district administrators who are now elected officials, thus double dipping with pensions, benefits, and perks, had the time to do this dirty political ad.  Check out the West Valley Board and the Santa Clara Board, and there are a few retired school administrators on the boards.  Has our children’s education gotten any better, or has it gotten worse? 

      Look at the superintendents who signed the advertisement.  Each one put their districts in hot water at the Grand Jury. 

      Check out the ex members of the board with respect to investigations by law enforcement and auditors,

      The culture is Santa Clara, often brought down, by its self appointed cyber bully, is far similar to the Capone era culture of Chicago.

      • Many of the superintendents who signed served for only a few years, which padded their pension benefits, and then retired. What did they do to improve student achievement?

        Yes, unfortunately this is the culture in Santa Clara, but at least the city council has a campaign code of ethics and an ethics guru in Dr. Tom Shanks, who oversees what happens during the Santa Clara Council campaigns and holds candidates accountable.
        2 years ago the Santa Clara Unified Board majority decided to not go forward with meeting with Dr. Tom Shanks and establishing an ethics program for school district campaigns.  Shame on them. 

        The incumbents Elise DeYoung and Albert Gonzalez are now working with Jim VanPernis, husband of the superintendent’s secretary and a candidate for school board – together they’re running a really dirty, negative campaign. Why?  They don’t want to give up the board majority which rubberstamps whatever the administration wants. They don’t want to make the changes that the parents are asking for. Members of the board majority – Ratermann, Canova, and Bordenave – also signed the ad.  Shame on them too. At a time when all across the country people are trying to teach children to not bully and cyberbully, we have a huge adult level bullying and cyberbullying problem in Santa Clara and Santa Clara Unified.  What a horrible example these people are setting for our children.

        And the College Board Trustees should also be ashamed of themselves for participating in a campaign of hate which clearly smacks of personal vendettas. One of them, Chad Walsh, is running for state assembly against Paul Fong.  Walsh hired Santa Clara’s resident cyberbully on his campaign payroll.  Please don’t vote for people who hire cyberbullies or engage in bullying themselves.

        Kathleen Watanabe, wife of soon to be college trustee Karl Watanabe (unopposed), is the owner and administrator of a cyberbullying website.  She and others trick people into making endorsements for the SUCSD incumbents by telling them that they will be making an endorsement – and then posts their name on her cyberbullying website against an opponent of incumbent Albert Gonzalez and Jim VanPernis.
        I’m really shocked at how low these people have sunk in their campaigning.

        Voters – if you’re tired of negative campaigning, then send a message – DO NOT vote for people who engage in cyberbullying/negative campaigning/hire cyberbullies.

        • Isn’t Watanabe a city commissioner in Santa Clara, and also a principal in the Debi Davis campaign in Santa Clara.  Recently, an associate of Debi Davis spoke out against Nadeem at a meeting claiming he was funded by “anti labor groups.”  Did this come from Kathleen Watanabe, who is trying outdo the most notorious bully in Santa Clara.  Why is Davis associating with these people.

        • Kathleen Watanabe is on the library board for Santa Clara.  I don’t know what else she’s on.  I’ve heard that she’s Debi Davis’s campaign manager.  Rather than getting involved with cyberbullying a school board candidate, why doesn’t Watanabe just focus on working for Davis in a positive manner?
          And – Davis had to agree to the city of Santa Clara ethics campaign pledge-which includes asking supporters and campaign workers to focus on positive campaigning.  Davis’s campaign manager Watanabe has violated the city’s code of campaign ethics.  What does it say about Davis’s judgement that she’s hired a campaign manager who has turned out to sink so low as to start a cyberbullying website?

          Kathy Watanabe also spoke before the RDA Oversight Board this past summer and said that the 49ers should get the $30 million in RDA property tax dollars, rather than have the money flow to our schools/city/county agencies.

        • My question is why would Watanabe be involved in this attempt to smear a candidate for school board?  Especially a candidate who supports Debi Davis, whom Watamabe is working with, and actively opposes her opponent?  It seems it does not matter to either of them that while the school board has no ethics policy, the city does.  Just as we thought Santa Clara was a place where good government was the norm, thanks to my friend, Judy Nadler, we have an outrageous bully who has never contributed anything to the community, blast people to gain favors, and now a city commissioner following the lead.  I agree, it is time for Dr. Shanks to bring in Watanabe, Davis, and the most outrageous thug of them all, and tell them to get involved in other things except our city.

        • To see a screen capture of the ‘whois’ search which proves that Kathy Watanabe is the owner of the bullying website, visit:

          Campaign finance reports for the bullying group show that a retired district administrator is the treasurer, Judy Osborne, and the assistant treasurer Mike O’Halloran is not a resident in Santa Clara Unified – yet he dares get involved in trying to bully voters! (Yes, sadly there’s a committee which has formed to bully voters into voting for the school district incumbents and the husband of the superintendent’s secretary.) Clearly, Santa Clara Unified needs to follow the City of Santa Clara’s rules for campaign ethics.

          Also see:

          To participate in the discussion of what’s going on in our school district.

          Why are they so afraid of having people on the school board who aren’t in the administrators clique?

        • Mr. Robinson

          Political Advertisements can turn you off from voting.

          I am not going to vote in the Santa Clara School Board elections, though I am a retired school district employee.  I simply do not care about the school district anymore, and will vote against any future bond measures or parcel taxes.

          Though I have a Debi Davis for City Council, it comes down today, and I am only voting for two people for council who are well known, because they earned it.

          Never supported Stampolis, and I was one percent behind the people who signed the advertisement which came out against him, BEFORE THE AD CAME OUT.

          Now I am very disappointed and sad.

          These people do not care about schools, just about politics.

          There is an arrogance about them, like Polk, like the former Superintendents, and now I read that a Debi Davis supporter is behind it all.

          They just do not care, and now nor do I.

        • Guess what, Kathy Watanabe is still posting attack material on Stampolis and Ryan on websites.  If Taxpayer and others want to make a difference here, time to contact

          and demand if Davis supports ethical conduct.  Of course, we all know what the response will be, and at the ballot box, our response will be the same

    • One of the sponsors of this ad against Stampolis is Chad Walsh who is angry that Stampolis is backing Paul Fong, and a guy named Ed Richards.

      Twelve years ago, Richards was ostracized in Santa Clara for making comments that people over 65 should not be on commissions. Richards was also investigated for Brown Act violations while chairing a commission. Check it.

      Richards is well over 65, perhaps he should not sponsor political ads.

      • More to the story.  While a commissioner in Santa Clara, Richards was the subject to numerous complaints to the council for biased and unethical conduct.  There is not a single person the field of historic preservation that has anything good to say.  Richards became president of the Old Quad Neighborhood Association, and almost every single officer quit. 

        Chad Walsh

        A friend of Pete Constant.  The day Stampolis endorsed Paul Fong, Walsh had a meeting fellow West Valley Trustee Buck Polk. The agenda was this ad that appeared in the Weekly.  Curiously, Walsh is opposing the reelection of Adrienne Gray in Campbell.  Why?

        She supports Paul Fong.

        Richards volunteered at a recent fundraiser to “get Santa Clara votes for Walsh.”


        Santa Clara is not in that district.

      • Another bullying ad in today’s Weekly.
        I hope people notice that the Weekly has endorsed the people for school board who pay for Weekly ads, and the Weekly bullies school board candidates who don’t pay for ads.

        The Weekly is an adjudicated paper which receives almost $100,000 per year in taxpayer dollars from the city of Santa Clara to run legal notices.  The Weekly does not meet adjudicated paper requirements, such as: it does not have a paid subscriber list (it’s free) and it does not refrain from promoting a particular group or point of view. The Weekly employs no professional journalists-perhaps that’s why the ‘reporting’ is so biased and unethical and libelous and one-sided. 

        I, for one, don’t want one penny of my property taxes that go to the city of Santa Clara to go to the Weekly.

  3. When we are talking about politicians there is no “truth.”  As big a (fill in the blank)_____________ as Pete Constant is his illegally obtained and released recording of his membership hearing with the SJPOA makes this clear. POLITICIANS LIE and THEN THEY LIE ABOUT WHAT THEY ARE LYING ABOUT, THEN THEY LIE SOME MORE!

    Constant’s point that the POA is endorsing Candidates for Office who Publically support MEASURE B is well taken – but the devil is in the details.  Braunstein and Bitbidal consistently say to the POA and when asked one-on-one give the “politically correct” answer that they “Support Pension Reform just not pension reform MEasure B style.”

    Gee sounds reasonable – THE SJPOA agrees with that, The Fire Union Agrees with that, all other City Employees agree with that… for their own self-preservation we have to.

    But, make the same statement to Quitter Constant   or the Merc or the Metro “supporting pension reform” becomes a 0.7second soundbite that translated through the ear of the simple-minded hearer: “I support Measure B. Measure B is a start but didn’t go far enough. I’m going to be the author or Measure B version 2 which will end public emplyee unions once and for all..”

    Two completly different things that in the politician’s world and the world of “journalists influencing the world” are synonymous.

    • Meyer Weed,
      Pete Constant’s behavior since he took office, and his incessant need to be in the media has always been of concern to me. I don’t know if he recorded the private meeting, and then leaked it to the media or not, but I would hope that even he has more integrity than to do that.

      In the end and at the end of the day, as Rich has already said, the voters put him in there, the SJPOA endorsed him TWICE, so you get what you vote for!

    • Meyer Weed,

      In Mr. Braunstein’s own words that he submitted to the League of Women Voters:

      “I supported the Measure B pension reform measure, which passed overwhelmingly in June. I agree with the “fix it now, fix it for good” approach of this measure. “

      No journalist involved here.  Looks like Mr. Braunstein duped both you and the SJPOA.

  4. > Not all positive information is the truth and not all truth is positive. Evaluate positive information just as critically as if it were a “negative” ad. Some people lie on their resume—even in the private sector. If they do so as a candidate, don’t vote for them.

    Gee, Rich.

    The government’s claim that the unemployment rate is now 7.8% is certainly “positive” information for Obama.

    But is it “the truth”?

      • Truth Patrol,

        I know you guys on the PD and in Fire are angry with every Council Member who cast a vote for things you don’t agree with, and I understand your anger and frustration. If I were in your place I’d be angry too, but the increase in crime all over San Jose, and across this country is because of a number of things:

        Just to name a few:
        Parents not seeking help for at risk family members/youth.
        More criminals than Police.
        Weak sentences for repeat offenders.
        Overcrowded jails that result in early release of serial offenders.
        States cutting budgets to cities.
        A rotten economy.
        Judges and policy makers who are weak on crime.
        Citizens who don’t report crime, or get engaged in working with the PD to take charge of their neighborhoods.

        The list of reasons for the increase in crime in San Jose is endless. To place the blame solely one or 5 Council Members, or even the Mayor is dishonest.

        • Thank you Kathleen for your eloquent defense of the status-quo.  Rose Herrera voted against reinstating the burglary investigations unit, she did nothing when under her watch the Violent Crime Enforcement Team was disbanded, and there are 345 less police officers since she took office.  Response times have increased for Priority 1 calls and for Priority 2 calls they have gone up 57%, that is nearly 18-minutes to get a cop for these types of calls: crime in progress where suspect is still on scene or in the area, assaults, break in’s, you know, every day stuff in San Jose.

          Fact of the matter is that Rose Herrera made choices, bad ones and the city’s residents are paying the price.  Just this Tuesday she said, “Crime is going down”…on KLIV radio.  In less than 24-hours after that statement there were two homicides, 3 shootings, an officer involved shooting, a round up of another murderer and who knows how many burglaries…there will be San Jose crime on the TV news tonight and I do blame Rose and I make no apologies for it.

          Kathleen, anger does not begin to scratch the surface of how many of us feel and you as a victims advocate should be taking a hard look in the mirror for your defense of the status-quo.

        • Truth Patrol,

          My defense of the status quo? Don’t let your anger blind you into such a falsehood. As a victim’s rights advocate, I look at the facts. Everything I just said is a fact.

          If we don’t stop finger pointing and start working together to support our understaffed, over worked Police Department, regardless of how someone on the Council votes on something, then we have no one to blame but ourselves, when crime increases even more than it already is.

        • Kathleen,
          Why is it that those who have an opinion that is not lock step in line with yours are “angry” or “frustrated” as opposed to right.

          I choose to support SJPD by exposing Rose Herrera’s dismal voting record when it comes to putting public safety first.  The Violent Crime Enforcement Team gone, the Street Crimes Unit is gone, school crossing guards cut nearly in half, Narcotics Enforcement Team gone, 2 detectives to handle 5,700 burglary cases per year and Herrera voted against reinstating the burglary investigations unit.  You can hold your breath in hopes of somehow holding a group therapy session where we can all “work together”, me, I plan on working toward Holding Herrera Accountable.

          You appear complacent and relaxed as our city is exploding in crime…maybe you should get angry or frustrated.

        • Kathleen

          I along with my brothers and sisters in F.D. & P.D.  Have and ALWAYS will do our Job . With respect, courtesy , Pride , and courage But Make no mistake it is NOT easy to do your best for a Mayor, Council and Residents That do not appreciate what we do . On any given day , on any given Call , we face verbal abuse , sometimes physical attacks , Things thrown at P.D. cars/Fire Engines , People flipping you the bird ,  it goes on and on . The (worthless) Mayor and Council can not be held solely responsible for the increase in crime in San Jose . But they can be held accountable for failing to protect the citizens of San Jose. It is not like they weren’t warned . the mass exodus of public safety is also a direct result of their actions. It will take many years to recover from all the loss of experienced public safety that has left. None of this even begins to cover the amount of sheer hatred and mistrust between the Mayor/council and all city workers. So tell me where do we go from here?? As we speak few hundred F.D. Personal are about to begin testing with about 7 major Fire depts in the country.

        • Truth Patrol,
          I am a very different person from you. I don’t think hurting someone to get what I want is “right.” Just because I chose to be collaborative, productive, and proactive to get something done, doesn’t make me a traitor to law enforcement, or victims of violent crime.

          I respect your “right” to say anything you want, but I will continue to exercise my “right” to disagree with the way you are going about things. You may not see it this way, but you are turning people off by attacking anyone who disagrees with your perception of “right.” 

          I on the other hand want citizens to support you based on the incredible, heroic things you do for us everyday. If you don’t like my approach to addressing the increase in crime, we can just respectfully agree to disagree on the matter.

        • Disgusted In San Jose,

          I hear you. I get that the way you have been treated by citizens, and even some electeds isn’t right, or fair. I personally think that anyone who has treated you with disrespect, or abuse should be ashamed of their actions. It is unacceptable.

          And yes, the public was warned about increase in crime, and short staffing. They’ve known about it for years now, they didn’t come forward and support you the way the should have, instead they are complaining about service reductions.

          You asked, “So tell me where do we go from here??” I wish I had a good answer for you, but I honestly don’t. I think that sometimes we have to be hit upside the head, and suffer the consequences of our actions before we get it.

          The tide is turning in your favor my friend. Citizens are seeing an increase in crime, mass exodus of City employees, and they are holding our electeds accountable for this. That is why I hope your Unions will re-think publicly attacking people, and let nature take its course.

          In the past few months, I personally, have either organized, assisted with organizing, and attended several vigils, and protests asking officials to increase staffing levels, and have asked citizens to get involved in supporting our public safety servants.

          I just helped organize and held a BBQ honoring Police/Fire/Crime Prevention in D9, with the assistance of Council Member Rocha, and now I’m working with Council Member Chu’s Office to hold one in D4, Oct. 28th. 

          Council Members Kalra, Liccardo, and Herrera have also committed to hold BBQ s to honor Police and Fire as well. I know, I know, you guys probably won’t come to Liccardo’s or Herrera’s, but it is important that you remember that members of the public who will come, will want to thank you for your service. 

          I personally, want to thank all of you for your dedication and service to our community. I too am deeply concerned about the way all of this has affected everyone. The only thing we can do now is work together, and hope that things get better.

          For my part, I will continue to do what I can to try and bring us all together, and to honor you in my own private way.

          Stay safe out there.

        • Kathleen,

          If you don’t make people accountable for their actions, they will never learn or stop.  You support Rose Herrera and that’s fine. We don’t, so as you have every right to disagree with us, we have every right to continue exposing her bad decisions.  That’s the beauty of freedom.

        • sj408

          You said, “If you don’t make people accountable for their actions, they will never learn or stop.” I agree 100%. My only objection is with “how” it is being done.

          You said, “You support Rose Herrera and that’s fine. We don’t, so as you have every right to disagree with us, we have every right to continue exposing her bad decisions.”

          First, let me make my position clear here. I support the City, the public, and public safety.

          I don’t live in D8, so I won’t be voting for Rose.

          I voted NO on every Measure reducing your pay/benefits/pensions because they were badly written, and I believe in good faith negotiation. I also do not believe passing Measure B will win in court.

          Secondly, I think these attacks on candidates will back fire on you. Presenting the facts is one thing, but vicious attacks are another. It turns people off to information when they feel they are being pulled into a fight. I think you should focus on educating the public on the facts, and trusting them to do the right thing.

          The bottom line is that if we don’t start pulling together to resolve things, we’re up the creak without a paddle.

  5. Thank you for the post Rich. I don’t think there is any truth in political ads, so I never have trusted them. I do the research for myself. If I’m not sure, I call the League of Women’s Voters, or I call the Registrar of Voters to get assistance. Also, there is a very easy way of verifying info by going to Fact Check.

    I can understand why so many people have quit voting. The ballots are long, and confusing, but I take the time to do the research because my vote is sacred to me. I also believe that if you don’t vote then don’t complain.

  6. People such as myself and Mr. Robinson who vote based on their ideology are generally pretty impervious to poliitical ads. We usually have our minds made up already. It’s the ‘undecideds’ that these ads are directed toward. These people have no ideology, are pretty shallow, and are susceptible to classic sales techniques. Unfortunately, it’s these airheads that wind up deciding the outcomes of elections. Instead of making it easier to vote we should be making it more difficult. But the Democrats have discovered that it’s their party that tends to benefit from the decisions of these ignoramuses.

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