Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando, taking full advantage of his incumbency, mailed a colorful newsletter at taxpayer expense to 94,000 households in his South Bay district just four days before filing for reelection last week.
Two other incumbent South Bay assemblymen seeking reelection--Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) and Richard Floyd (D-Hawthorne)--also sent taxpayer-financed mass mailings this month, but they were not nearly as glitzy or expensive.
Members of the Assembly are allowed to send three districtwide mailers during every two-year legislative session. But state law prohibits lawmakers from using public funds for mass mailings to their constituents once they file their declaration of candidacy for another term in office.
Felando (R-San Pedro) spent $20,437 in taxpayer money on his newsletter, according to Bob Connelly, chief administrative officer for the Assembly Rules Committee. The price tag included $12,522 for typesetting, printing, folding and labeling, plus $7,915 for postage.
Connelly said the Felando newsletter was sent March 4 to every household with a registered voter in his Assembly district. The five-term lawmaker filed for reelection on March 8.
The Felando mailer was approved for content by the Legislative Counsel and was "not a campaign piece," Connelly said.
But Felando's challenger in the Republican primary, Deane Dana III, branded the newsletter "an abuse of power."
'Pushing the Margins'
Dana, a former officer in Gov. George Deukmejian's administration and the son of Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, told reporters that Felando was "pushing the margins of ethical behavior" by mailing the splashy newsletter at taxpayer expense just before filing for reelection.
Felando defended the newsletter, which was written by his longtime campaign consultant, Allan Hoffenblum of Los Angeles. "Nothing says that they have to be dull or boring," Felando said in an interview. "It was certainly eye-catching, something that you could pick up and read."
In recent months, Felando also sent taxpayer-financed mailers, written by the Assembly Republican Caucus, to small businesses and senior citizens in his district. Those dealt with state tax-law changes and insurance for the elderly.
This month's districtwide newsletter, labeled an "Annual Report to the People," includes a picture of the assemblyman with Gov. Deukmejian, a brief report on the governor's proposed state budget, and Felando's comments about repairing the damage caused by a January storm that ravaged Redondo Beach.
The 51st Assembly District includes Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Torrance, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and parts of San Pedro.
The inside four pages of the newsletter fold out to a red, white, blue and yellow "presidential campaign calendar," complete with listings of every state's presidential primary, plus the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and every presidential birthday from George Washington's to Ronald Reagan's.
Assembly guidelines require that legislative newsletters include "general information of a legislative nature," Connelly said.
Dana wondered aloud what relevance the campaign calendar has to legislative business. "I don't know what a 1988 presidential election calendar has to do with anything dealing with the state elected officials in this area. Personally, it is insulting to me," he said.
Defense of Calendar
Felando replied that the calendar was important to keep voters in his district informed. "Hopefully, it will stimulate voters to go out and vote," he said.
The newsletter was produced by a Los Angeles printing company that also prints campaign mailers for Hoffenblum.
Hoffenblum returned Dana's fire by suggesting that Felando may take legal action against his opponent because of the generic campaign signs that have appeared throughout the South Bay touting Deane Dana but drawing no distinction between the supervisor, who is seeking reelection, and the Assembly candidate.
"Any sign that has an editorial statement must clearly state who paid for the sign," Hoffenblum said, asserting that the Dana signs do not contain such information.
The use of four colors in printing newsletters is rare. Richard Withrow, manager of support services for the Rules Committee, said the Felando mailer was "probably one of the only ones" in multicolor.
Despite the "annual report" label for this month's mailer, Felando did not send a newsletter last year, according to Assembly records.
Assemblymen Tucker and Floyd both sent newsletters at taxpayer expense this month.
Tucker, a seven-term lawmaker, faces a Democratic primary challenge from Inglewood City Councilman Danny Tabor.
Assembly records show that Tucker mailed an insurance information report to 74,000 households on March 2 at a cost to the taxpayers of $9,000.
Floyd, who faced heavy Republican opposition two years ago, mailed a home security guide to 36,000 homes on March 4 at an estimated cost of $6,012, according to Connelly.
"There was no indication that any of the others were four-color," Connelly said.
The state Senate does not do full-color newsletters, according to Cliff Berg, executive director of the Senate Rules Committee.
Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), who is seeking reelection and whose district overlaps much of the Felando territory, sent his last districtwide newsletter in December. It featured a questionnaire about state issues.