Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett is no friend of taxpayers.
In 2009, the Orange County Republican voted to create a special tax on local businesses to fund a tourism marketing campaign for her city. Earlier this year, she voted to raise development fees in Dana Point and sided with public employee unions on contracting out government projects.
So, when Bartlett launched her campaign for Orange County Supervisor, it didn’t take long for the Orange County Republican Party and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to rally behind her opponent, Robert Ming.
“We believe you will be an excellent representative for taxpayers and look forward to working with you in the years ahead,” Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Political Action Committee said in a press release endorsing Ming for the 5th Supervisorial District.
Nevertheless, some Republican voters will head to the polls next month and cast their ballot for Bartlett– under the misguided belief that she’s the anti-tax candidate who is endorsed by the local Republican Party.
It’s not their fault. Conservative Republican voters in Orange County received a recent Bartlett campaign mailer touting the endorsement of the “California Republican Taxpayers Association.” It even included an official-looking seal, modeled after the California Republican Party’s logo. (Pictured above)
There’s just one problem: the California Republican Taxpayers Association isn’t a real organization.
In 2006, Steven Greenhut, the state’s preeminent California political journalist, couldn’t find any documentation to support the organization’s existence.
“I found no evidence of the group ever being mentioned in a US newspaper at any time in a search of the Nexis database,” wrote Greenhut, then with the Orange County Register.
Pay-to-Play Slate Mailers
Every election cycle, political slate mailers inundate voters with mailers touting a list of endorsed candidates under the guise of various issues, community groups and political ideologies.
“Slate mailers are as much a part of the election season as red, white and blue bunting,” Brad Racino of iNewsSource wrote of the slate mailer business in 2012. “It can be confusing. It can be deceptive. It’s been part of the California political landscape for decades and it is perfectly legal.”
Slate mailers aren’t a new campaign tactic, and they’re appropriately protected as a form of political speech. But, this cycle, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has reached a new low in the slate mailer business, and potentially, run afoul of state law.
An investigation into the self-described “Republican taxpayer” group shows repeated support for tax measures, a violation of the state’s slate mailer disclaimer law, potential violations of the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws and the blatant misuse of the California Republican Party’s protected copyright.
California Republican Taxpayers Association backs tax increases
Since January 1, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has collected $366,085 from dozens of political campaigns. On its website, it assures the public that the candidates and campaigns that pay for space on the mailer comply with its low-tax, Republican ideology.
“Only those candidates who hold firm the values of small government, less regulation and less taxes are represented on our voter guide,” the California Republican Taxpayers Association promises on its website.
Yet, from Gilroy to Stanton, the California Republican Taxpayers Association is urging voters to support tax increases and school bond measures.
For the low price of $237, the “taxpayer” group sold its support for Measure F, a half-cent sales tax increase in Gilroy. Just a few hundred miles away in Atascadero, the California Republican Taxpayers Association accepted $356 to support Measure F-14, which would raise the city’s sales tax by half a percent.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the group selling its endorsement is Measure GG in Stanton. The controversial measure would allow the city to impose an additional 1 percent sales tax. It’s opposed by both the Orange County Republican Party and the trusted Orange County Lincoln Club.
“Enough is enough,” the OC Lincoln Club writes in its voter guide. “Taxes should not be raised on working class consumers just to pay for the bloated compensation packages of the public employees who are supposed to serve them.”
The California Republican Taxpayers Association happily supports raising taxes on working families for the bargain-basement endorsement price of $175.
Support for School Bond Measures
In addition to tax increases, the phony taxpayer group has endorsed multiple school and construction bond measures, which are frequently opposed by the state GOP and legitimate taxpayer groups.
This November, Manteca voters will consider Measure G, a $159 million school bond on behalf of the Manteca Unified School District. According to state disclosure reports, a $608 payment secured the phony group’s endorsement.
It’s a similar story in Hesperia, where voters are considering Measure M, a $207 million bond measure to improve school district facilities. Support from the California Republican Taxpayers Association — bought for $582.
In Orange County, the local Republican Party has aggressively opposed new school bonds, including Fullerton’s Measure I and Orange Unified Measure K. But, proponents of both measures needn’t fear the party. They purchased support from the California Republican Taxpayers Association: $1,120 for Measure I and $1,525 for Measure K.
Green, Democratic candidates buy support from “GOP” group
In the City of Lake Forest, Scott Voigts and Andrew Hamilton have been endorsed by the OC GOP, while Tom Cagley paid $822 for the phony endorsement.
In Newport Beach, the OC GOP has backedDiane Dixon, Duffy Duffield, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon, not Rush Hill who paid $1,412 for the phony endorsement.
In Brea, Steve Vargas and Cecilia Hupp are both endorsed by local Republicans for city council; opponent Mike Kim paid $460 for the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s endorsement.
In the City of Laguna Niguel, Elaine Gennawey and John Jennings have the endorsement of the OC GOP, while Matt Clements and Fred Minegar paid $600 for the deceptive endorsement.
Some endorsements are particularly egregious cases of deception. In Santa Monica, Michael Feinstein, a spokesman and co-founder of the Green Party of California, is listed as the choice of the “California Republican Taxpayers Association.”
The California Republican Taxpayers Association is willing to endorse Democrats, too, such as Gila Jones, a candidate for the Capistrano Unified School District. Jones, a registered Democrat, has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County. In 2010, Jones was theDemocratic nominee for the 38th Senate District against GOP State Senator Mark Wyland. Yet, GOP voters will see her listed as the choice of the California Republican Taxpayers Association thanks to her $340 check to the group. Her opponent, Ellen Addonizio, has been endorsed by the OC GOP.
The misleading endorsements have drawn the ire of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the state’s leading grassroots taxpayer group.
“In the current election cycle, a group we’ve never heard of before is selling its endorsement in favor of local tax hikes and left leaning candidates,” Jon Coupal, president of the state’s preeminent anti-tax group, wrote in his weekly commentary at the Flash Report. “The so-called “California Republican Taxpayers Association” has no bona fides as a legitimate taxpayer association.”
Failure to comply with slate mailer law
The First Amendment appropriately protects slate mailers as a form of political speech and association. Courts have repeatedly thrown out attempts by state and local governments to limit slate mailers. Consequently, slate mailers operate in the Wild West of campaign finance laws.
But, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has somehow managed to run afoul of the few laws governing slate mailers. One of the few state laws governing slate mailers still on the books is a mandatory disclaimer. According to the California Government Code, slate mailers must include a specific 80-word disclaimer, which reads:
NOTICE TO VOTERS
THIS DOCUMENT WAS PREPARED BY (name of slate mailer organization or committee formed to support or oppose one or more ballot measures), NOT AN OFFICIAL POLITICAL PARTY ORGANIZATION. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *.
Multiple slate mailer samples published on the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s website show a substantially shorter disclaimer– just 52 words. One sample from the June 2014 primary reads:
THIS DOCUMENT WAS PREPARED BY CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN TAXPAYERS’ ASSOCIATION VOTER GUIDE, NOT AN OFFICIAL PARTY ORGANIZATION. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of other candidates or ballot measurers (sic) in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *.
The organization’s substantially shorter disclaimer – with 35 percent fewer words – makes it smaller on the page, and thus, is less likely to be noticed. According to the organization, these mailers are “carefully constructed” to persuade voters.
“The carefully constructed Voter Guide strategy maximizes your exposure to those people most likely to vote,” the slate mailer claims on its website, “and presents you as the best Republican Taxpayer-approved candidate for your race.”
In other words, there’s no need to obtain the party’s endorsement, because, the slate mailer “presents you as the best Republican Taxpayer-approved candidate for your race.”
Late filings with FPPC
Although the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s voter guide is “carefully constructed,” it’s less careful with its compliance with state campaign finance disclosure laws.
The state’s campaign finance disclosure system, Cal Access, shows the slate mailer organization has repeatedly filed late disclosure reports. The organization’s 2014 semi-annual disclosure report, which is required to be submitted by July 31, was posted on the state’s website on August 14.
CA GOP retains right to use “Republican”
Just like business trademarks or corporate brands, political parties consider their name a precious commodity. The California Republican Party’s bylaws reserve the common law right to control the use of the “Republican” brand in California.
“The Committee retains the common law right to control and authorize the use of the party name ‘Republican’ in connection with official political activity within the State of California, in particular any use that in any way implies, states or misrepresents an affiliation or relationship with, or endorsement by, the California Republican Party,” the bylaws state.
The California Republican Taxpayers Association isn’t chartered by the state party and thus does not have permission from the California Republican Party to use the words “California Republican” in their title and seal.
In a recent mailer, Bartlett’s supervisorial campaign, created an official-looking seal in an effort to convince voters she has the party’s endorsement. The OC GOP has backed her opponent Ming. Bartlett’s campaign offers a unique glimpse into the organization.
This year, Bartlett’s campaign consultants, Venture Strategic, Inc., have paid the California Republican Taxpayers Association $12,006 in fees. Jeff Corless, the managing partner of Venture Strategic, Inc., also serves as a partner of Frontline Strategies. In the first quarter of 2014, according to state campaign finance disclosure forms, the California Republican Taxpayers Association PAC paid Frontline Strategies $15,000 in consulting fees.
Abel Maldonado praises deceptive slate mailer
Despite the money transfers between companies and political campaigns, the organization boasts high-profile supporters, including a prominent California Republican.
“There is no other voter guide I value more than California Republican Taxpayers Association Voter Guide,” former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado states on the organization’s website.
In June 2006, Maldonado was prominently featured on the slate mailer during his contested Republican primary for state controller. A fitting endorsement — during his time in the state legislature, Maldonado voted for billions of dollars in higher taxes.
This article was originally published on CalNewsroom.com