Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 28, 2011
FPPC targets slate mailers

The Fair Political Practices Commission today adopted new rules to strengthen disclosure requirements for slate mailers.

The mass-produced mail pieces, often labeled as "voter guides," urge support or opposition for a series of candidates or issues on the ballot, many of whom pay to be included on the slate.

The adopted regulations seek to ensure disclaimers designating paid placement and disclosing that the slate mailer organizations are not tied to official political parties are clearly identifiable and easy-to-read.

Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern, co-chair of an FPPC-created task force that recommended the changes, said seeing a politically involved colleague mistakenly believe a slate she received was showcasing official party-endorsed candidates reinforced in his mind the need for the changes.

"If somebody as aware as that is not aware of the fact that these slate mailers are not necessarily Democratic- or Republican-endorsed candidates, then we have a problem," said Stern, who helped craft the original Political Reform Act. "There are some people who are clearly misled by slate mailers."

Under the new rules, disclaimers must be written in the same language as the content of the mail piece and printed in colors that are legible in a color contrasting a plain background. The new rules, which would also apply to slate mailers distributed electronically, extend disclosure requirements for slate placements purchased on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure.

Commissioners also adopted several other regulation changes addressing electronic filing deadlines, committee terminations and language for disclosures on paid political advertisements.

Stern and political attorney Chuck Bell, co-chairman of the Chairman's Advisory Task Force on the Political Reform Act, outlined a series of additional recommendations for updating the 1974 Political Reform Act. Those proposals, which would require action by the Legislature, include giving the FPPC jurisdiction to regulate political robocalls, creating a statewide electronic filing system for campaign finance reports and extending to staff restrictions barring elected officials from lobbying their former office for a period after leaving office.

Assemblymen Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, have agreed to take the lead in advancing legislation based on the task force proposals, staff said.

"Our primary goal and the goal of our members is really to restore public confidence overall," Huffman senior consultant Andi Liebenbaum told the commission.

FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur, who created the task force last year, applauded the work of the task force members and commission staff.

"Most of the changes that were adopted today are not the stuff of headlines but they are a critical components both to disclosure and to making it easier, rather than harder, for Californians to participate in the political process," he said.

Speaking at what could be the final meeting of his tenure as chair, Schnur said he believed the task force recommendations and the commissions' actions regarding online political communications and issue amounted to "very, very important steps" to increase transparency and participation in the state political process.



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