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PEREZ.JPGA contemplative Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez gazes into the distance as an excerpt on the same page declares his legislation to expand coverage for the poor the best path to health care reform in California.

An unsuspecting reader might assume from the glossy, multipage mailer that Pérez is gearing up to run for statewide office - a suspicion further fed by the fact that the piece landed outside his Los Angeles district from San Diego to Sacramento.

"Thank you, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez," the mailer states. But for what?

The group that paid for the mailer (and at least one similar piece on behalf of Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose) says it did so to promote political allies in the fight to protect access to health care.

Lisa Maas, executive director of Californians Allied for Patient Protection, described the group's mailers as a statewide education effort to raise awareness about unspecified policies that expand access to health care.

"These legislators have been staunch supporters of these policies," Maas said.

The mailer makes only a passing reference - next to the return address - that the group behind it spends much of its time and energy protecting the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, which capped at $250,000 jury awards for pain and suffering in malpractice suits.

Maas wouldn't say how many other mailers went out to voters or how much the group was spending on mail.

Consumer Watchdog, which is gathering signatures for an initiative that would lift the cap, is doing mailers of its own targeting doctors who contributed. At a briefing in August, Pérez said he thought the Consumer Watchdog-backed initiative was a bad idea.

Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, described the other group's mailers as vague and odd and said they don't really address MICRA.

Court said the 'thank you' mailer was a way of having a debate without having a debate.

"It is definitely a communication designed to let legislators know they are watched and that their constituents can be reached," Court said "And that's either a gift or a threat."

"When it's a carrot, it doesn't seem so bad. But it's also letting legislators know there's a stick if they need it."

Maas said her group was proud to feature its name and logo on the mail pieces.

"These are not political pieces," she said, adding, "You can be sure we are doing the correct disclosures and doing everything right."

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, right, listens during the last day of the legislative session in September. (The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer)



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