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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Strickland Abused Mail Privileges, McGrath Says

The challenger says 'political' mailings were sent at taxpayer expense just before preelection deadline. Lawmaker says he's playing by the rules.

September 16, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Assembly candidate Roz McGrath charged Friday that Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) has abused his privileges as a lawmaker by sending 420,000 mailers to voters at taxpayer expense shortly before the Sept. 8 ban on such mailings.

"It's a political ploy to get his message across to the voters at taxpayers' expense," said McGrath, the Democratic challenger in the 37th District. "And as a taxpayer, I'm demanding that he pay back that money to the taxpayers."

State records show that Strickland ordered seven different sets of mailers from Aug. 16 to Aug. 30 totaling 420,366 pieces and costing $67,397. That placed him second of the Assembly's 80 members in total mailings during the five weeks prior to the Sept. 8 cutoff.

"I'm not going to say one way or another if what he's doing is against the rules," McGrath said. "But he's been promoting tax relief for two years, so doing this at the end of his term is a contradiction of his whole platform."

But Strickland said he is simply playing by the rules established by the Assembly.

"Her charge is bogus," Strickland said. "The point is Roz McGrath is trying to make a political issue out of something she knows nothing about. I support the rules. I play by the rules. I believe it's important to communicate with my constituents about what's going on in Sacramento."

The assemblyman, whose district stretches from Thousand Oaks to Oxnard, said McGrath's demand that he pay the $67,000 back is ridiculous.

"The constituents of this district have told me they appreciate the fact that I've kept them informed," he said. "I started mailing, right after my election, on important issues in Sacramento. And I've done it ever since. I'm just doing my job." Under rules adopted by the Assembly, members can spend unspecified portions of their $264,000 annual office budgets on mailers, which are submitted to the Assembly Rules Committee for approval and mailing.

Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the Rules Committee, said many lawmakers send batches of mailers just before the 60-day preelection blackout.

"We handle several million pieces of mail a year, and I'm sure the bulk of it goes out shortly before the deadline," Waldie said. "Manipulation is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn't say [Strickland] has manipulated the system, I'd say he's mastered it.

"It's a style preference," Waldie added. "Some members are communicating with constituents year-round, and some feel they get a greater benefit doing it closer to November."

The real question, Waldie said, is how many pieces of mail did Strickland send out in the last month before the deadline compared to the rest of the year.

State records show that Strickland sent out about 420,000 pieces in the three weeks before deadline, compared with 727,890 for the prior 12 months. Total cost for the 1,148,256 pieces of mail was about $188,000.

Strickland's late mailings placed him second to Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco), who had about 437,000 pieces mailed during August and September, Waldie said.

"Why would he wait until the last possible moment to inform his constituents, unless he was trying to campaign at taxpayers' expense?" McGrath asked. "He's manipulating the mail."

Strickland said he ordered so many mailers recently because of the flurry of activity involving many important bills at the end of a two-year Assembly cycle.

"Most of the things that were going on in Sacramento were decided," he said.

Information in the mailers was strictly about issues and did not promote him as a candidate, Strickland said.

If McGrath doesn't like the system's rules, she should call Democratic Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg to change them, since the Assembly is controlled by Democrats, Strickland said.

He also said McGrath is a hypocrite for criticizing his late-session mailings but not those of Democrats, such as Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents parts of Ventura County. Records show Jackson sent 198,264 pieces of mail after Aug. 1, costing $32,126.

"I think she's being hypocritical," Strickland said. "She's not saying the same thing about Hannah-Beth Jackson. We can use our budgets as we see fit. I could have used that money to hire a high-priced consultant like [McGrath's] to work in my office, but I chose to keep my constituents informed."

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