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Some California legislators pepper constituents with taxpayer-funded mailers

The privilege is intended to keep voters informed, but experts say the mailers are a key advantage for incumbents seeking reelection or higher office.

May 29, 2010|By Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times

When the recall drive failed in November, the stream of Adams mailers dried up. He has sent no mail in 2010 and has announced that he will not seek reelection.

There are some restrictions on the mass mailers. Lawmakers cannot feature pictures of themselves, and their names can be used a limited number of times per mailer. But references to legislation, upcoming district events and requests for constituent feedback are permitted.

Campaign themes sometimes appear anyway. One mailer that Anderson of San Diego sent last fall referred to legislation he said was inspired by reports that his opponent, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, had lent his county-owned car to his sister. The legislation, which Anderson introduced, would not allow such use of an official car.

The mailer did not mention Stone by name, but it broadcast this message: "Local politicians are using public money as personal slush funds" and featured an image of $100 bills stuffed into a suit jacket.

Assemblywoman Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), a candidate for state Senate, recently mailed 45,000 tough-on-crime brochures that feature images of fingerprints, handcuffs and hands clutching prison bars. It warns of federal judges releasing "murderers, rapists and child molesters … into your neighborhood."

Eric Ziegler, who lives near Bakersfield, was so incensed by the piece that he wrote a letter to the Bakersfield Californian.

Politicians, he wrote, "continue to waste public money on these types of mailers while the state is on the edge of economic collapse."

The Legislature could restrict the mailing privilege — cap the number of brochures allowed per month, for example — but few expect lawmakers to rein in practices from which they benefit.

"The day you're elected, your first job is getting reelected," said Joe Tumate, professor of political communications at San Francisco State. "There is no altruism here."

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