Always Read the Fine Print During Campaign Season

1 min read
A man in a suit and tie

One of the most pernicious forms of political advertising isn’t necessarily the attack ad. We’ve already seen plenty of those about local and regional politicos this year. And it’s usually clear who is doing the attacking.

No, the sneakiest form of campaign direct mail tool may be the unofficial slate mailer or “election digest.” That’s where voters have to spot the asterisks next to the candidate names and read the fine print.

Here’s why.

Last week’s USPS delivery included a mailer proffered by the “Coalition for Literacy,” a California nonprofit organization. The mailer included a photo of candidate Adam Schiff on the front, another ad for Schiff on the inside of the mailer, and a list of candidates on the reverse under the heading “Election Digest.”

The list of recommended candidates is quite the grab bag of local conservatives and centrist independents who probably don’t share many political priorities with Schiff. So why are they listed as preferred candidates?

The answer is they paid to be. There’s a paragraph of small text near the address block that clearly states, “Not an official political party organization,” and, “Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure designated by an *.”

As former congressional candidate, actor and Pasadena resident Barry Gordon says, any candidate can be listed in an unofficial slate mailer if they fork-over cash for the privilege.

Meanwhile, during an election year, the Coalition for Literacy rakes in about $150,000 in revenue, of which it spends about half on professional fees and payments to independent contractors. A considerably smaller amount is actually spent on the organization’s stated nonprofit mission of improving literacy.

Or, now that you know more about how unofficial slate mailers work, you could say you’ve become more politically literate.

By the way, do you recognize the guy in the top photo?

If you do, it’s not because you are in the market for a replacement soft water system. The photo was once used in an online product ad, and the company subsequently went belly up.

Here’s a hint: You may have seen his likeness in an email last week, in the same pose but sans water tank and accompanied by two stock photo female friends.

Yep, Mr. Casual Friday was used in an email blast to promote a new Pasadena newsletter and related Web site called Pasadena Voices, designed to “Let the Winds of Freedom Blow!,” and which seems to exist mainly to endorse a specific candidate for Pasadena City Council.

With some political newsletters, details like misspelled words (“Sincerly,” “reginal”) and grammatical errors (“Here is the 5 most important concerns…”) are tip-offs that this was a rush job by political operatives.

It’s also fair to say that some folks with money to burn once struggled to earn a “C” in English. Maybe the Coalition for Literacy should help proofread their content.

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Phil Hopkins

Phil is the Associate Publisher of Local News Pasadena. He is a 35-year resident of the city and his favorite local delicacy is the Combo Grinder at Connal's.
Email: [email protected]

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