LOS ANGELES WAVE NEWSPAPERS from CITY NEWS SERVICE
The Fair Political Practices Commission warned that many government agencies are “pushing the limits with public outreach programs clearly biased or slanted in their presentation of facts relating to a ballot measure”.
25.OCT.08 -- Some local governmental agencies are walking a fine line when it comes to using taxpayer dollars to send out political mailers, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District mailed voters two weeks ago what officials described as a “fact sheet’’ on Measure Q, a $7-billion construction bond on the Nov. 4 ballot. While the district is forbidden from saying how to vote, the mailer says “Measure Q Improves School Safety,’’ “Measure Q Improves the Learning Environment” and “Measure Q is Fiscally Accountable.”
The district also put together a six-paragraph script about Measure Q for principals to read in “phone blasts” to parents. It spent $21,000 on hats and T-shirts, saying “Measure Q,” distributing them on school campuses.
A 2005 court ruling states that governmental institutions can distribute information on ballot measures, as long as it does not include “express advocacy.”
The Times found at least eight Southern California agencies using taxpayer money for outreach campaigns about measures that would benefit them.
In advance of this year’s election in Lynwood, the city posted a five-minute video on its Web site discussing Measure II, a proposal to retain a local utility users tax.
Separately, Pico Rivera officials plan to send six mailers about Measure P, a 1-cent sales tax hike to balance that city’s budget.
The practice also produced some internal dissent at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which spent $1.1 million on brochures, newspaper ads and radio spots on Measure R, the half-cent sales tax hike for transportation.
The Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1 million campaign that includes three mailers sent to 450,000 likely voters. Two of three are just short of an endorsement.
But one hitting the mail this week says: “This November 4th, remember to vote on Measure Q.’’ Experts say that crosses a legal line, resembling the campaign brochures typically sent by political committees and paid for by private contributors.
“This piece clearly takes a position,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of the political reform group California Common Cause. “It is not just a quote-unquote educational piece.”
Foes of Measure Q said the taxpayer-funded mailers should have mentioned that this is the district’s fifth bond measure in 11 years and that the four prior bonds will eventually cost homeowners $185 per year for each $100,000 that their homes are assessed, the Times reported.
“You can quibble about what it is that you ought to put in” a mailer, said Michael Strumwasser, a lawyer for the LAUSD. “I don’t understand that as a matter of law, you are obligated to tell them how many bonds you have had.”
Earlier this year, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission warned that many government agencies are “pushing the limits with public outreach programs clearly biased or slanted in their presentation of facts relating to a ballot measure.’’
The FPPC is considering a rule that would define any public money used to communicate about a ballot measure as a political expenditure, unless it provides a fair and impartial presentation of facts.
In Long Beach Unified, school officials spent $46,000 on a mailer that discusses Measure K, a $1.2-billion bond measure to pay for classroom repairs. That mailer went to 80,000 likely voters, according to district spokesman Chris Eftychiou.
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