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Orange County

Supervisors Ponder Tighter Rules for County Campaign Slate Mailers


Orange County supervisors are considering whether to regulate political slate mailers devoted mostly to targeting--or touting--a single county candidate.

The amendment to the county's campaign reform ordinance would extend the $1,000 contribution limit to cover mailers produced or distributed with the cooperation of a candidate or the candidate's campaign manager or agent.

The candidate would be required to pay his or her share of the mailer's production or distribution costs, which typically far exceed the $1,000 limit.

The reforms were suggested after the March election by Board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad, who lost reelection in a hard-fought race against Supervisor-elect Chris Norby, and by longtime government watchdog Shirley Grindle of Orange. Supervisors will review a first reading of the new law at their June 25 meeting.

Coad was the subject of more than a dozen critical mailers produced by a slate-mail organization run by opponents of a proposed airport at the former El Toro Marine base. Coad supported the airport; Norby opposed it.

Most of the mailers were devoted to attacking Coad's positions, with only a small portion reserved for other candidates and issues that must be present to qualify for slate-mailer status under state law.

The revisions proposed Tuesday would require candidates to pay the cost of mailers where more than 25% of the surface area is devoted to either promoting their candidacy or attacking an opponent.

The amount would be subject to the $1,000 limit and would be considered a contribution from the slate-mailer organization or from a third party who donated to the mailer.

Any amount above $1,000 would have to be refunded.

The revisions would establish a relationship between a candidate and a slate mailer organization if any of the costs of the mailer were paid by the candidate, a photo was supplied, or there was other consultation or conferences regarding timing, content or distribution.

That definition sparked a question from Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who worried that candidates might be held liable for the unauthorized use of their names, photos or positions on slate mailers, which could exceed 25% of the surface area.

Slate mailers have wide latitude on what to include; the only requirement is that they indicate whether candidates or ballot measures paid for their placement on the mailer.

Spitzer said he paid deposits to be placed on several slates for his Assembly race this year but dropped off the slates after no other Republican candidate filed to run against him in the March primary. Some slates went ahead and ran his photo and position statements without his approval, he said.

He suggested adding provisions that a candidate knowingly influence production of the mailers.

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