Slate mailers attacked
September 4, 2007<p>Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel is trying to get her fellow city council candidates to say "no" to slate mailers.
<p>At a candidates' orientation session earlier this week, Nagel asked the other four people vying for the two open council seats in the November election if they would agree not to advertise with the mailers, which she calls deceptive.
<p>The California Fair Political Practices Commission defines a slate mailer as a mass mailing that supports or opposes four or more candidates or ballot measures. Any individual or organization that creates a slate mailer must register with the jurisdiction's elections office or the California Secretary of State's office.
<p>Members of the public are free to view or request copies of the information the sender of a slate mailer is required to provide - which includes names and contact information - free of charge, FPPC spokesman Roman Porter said.
<p>Nagel said such mailers are deceptive because they make recipients believe they are from legitimate organizations that represent the interests of certain groups - such as parents, police or environmental advocates - when that is not necessarily the case.
<p>Nagel said she expects the people or organizations who sell space on the mailers to start hounding her soon via phone, and that voters will see the first postcard-size mailers in their mailboxes by late September.
<p>"They are just paid ads that I object to because I think they are misleading," Nagel said. "It makes people think these groups are endorsing the candidate when they are paying for advertising.
<p>"If we have an agreement not to do these, I feel that is the only way to stop this deceptive political advertising."
<p>Candidates' reactions to Nagel's proposal appear to be mixed.
<p>Incumbent Russ Cohen said he unknowingly paid to be on a slate mailer when he ran for local office unsuccessfully in 2003. He was elected a few years later to a two-year term when a council member resigned.
<p>"I don't have any feeling in particular about them," Cohen said of the mailers. "I think we all have to use our best judgment. Some people might find them useful, some might not."
<p>Cohen declined to say what slate mailer he paid to be listed on. He said he is not likely to use a slate mailer this election, but that "everything is open at this point."
<p>Candidate Jerry Deal feels differently.
<p>"There's no way I would do that," Deal said. "We don't need shams like that. Hopefully I would not get suckered into one without knowing what it is."
<p>Deal said although he would not pay to be endorsed on a slate mailer, he believes it would give other candidates who are willing to pay an unfair advantage.
<p>Candidate Gene Condon said his concern with slate mailers is that there is no way to tell what or who else would be on one. He ran unsuccessfully in 2005 for the council seat Cohen occupies.
<p>"I don't use them, but they are an effective way to get your name out there," Condon said. "They contact everybody (to be on the mailers)."
<p>Candidate Peter Comaroto said he does not plan on using slate mailers, but he does not believe every such mailer is bad. The Democratic and Republican parties send slate mailers out, he noted.
<p>"To say hands-down slate mailers are bad, I don't think that is fair," Comaroto said. "I don't want to put a cap on how people can communicate."
Author: Mark Abramson