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Orange County

Campaign Mailers Now Subject to Gift Limits

Politics: County extends $1,000 contribution cap. The Coad-Norby race prompted the change.


In an attempt to control spending in political races, Orange County will begin regulating slate mailers devoted primarily to supporting or opposing a single candidate.

An amendment to the county's campaign reform ordinance approved Tuesday extends its $1,000 contribution limit to cover slate mailers produced or distributed with the cooperation of a candidate's campaign. The candidate now will have to pay his or her share of the mailer's costs, which typically far exceed the $1,000 limit.

The reforms were suggested after the March election by longtime government watchdog Shirley Grindle in response to a hard-fought race between county Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad and Supervisor-elect Chris Norby. Coad was the subject of more than a dozen critical mailers from a slate-mailer organization run by opponents of a proposed airport at the closed El Toro Marine base. Coad supported an airport; Norby opposed one.

Coad said it was impossible to track who paid for the mailers because the anti-airport group reported making only a single $440,000 contribution to the slate organization.

Norby's campaign estimated that the mailers cost about $160,000. Other consultants estimated they cost at least $420,000.

Norby said the mailers were legal and helped him counteract Coad's personal wealth in the campaign. She lent her campaign about $500,000 for the race. State and federal law allow unlimited spending by a candidate on their own race.

Slate mailers traditionally promote four or more candidates or ballot issues. The mailers targeting Coad--sent by Voter Education Project, run by anti-airport consultants Arnold Forde and Stu Mollrich--devoted most of their space to attacking Coad's positions, with only a small portion reserved for other candidates and issues.

The revisions approved Tuesday require candidates to pay the cost of mailers where more than 25% of the surface area is devoted to promoting their candidacy or attacking an opponent. The amount will be subject to the $1,000 limit.

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