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  Beware of Commercial Slate Mailers
November 11, 2004

During the last few days before an election, voters will receive a number of typically 8 ½ x 5 ½ cards single or double folded with slates of recommendations. The one I am looking at now proclaims “Attention Democrats” and “The Team for Democratic Voters” and comes from Democratic Voters Choice, 340 N. Myers, Burbank, CA, produced by Elite Consulting, Inc. Similar mailers are sent to Republicans. This one features three candidates for Richmond City Council.

The bottom line is that such mailers are purely a commercial money making venture. The producers contact candidates several weeks before the election and offer to sell them a spot for between $1,000 and $1,500. They will head up the mailers with major party candidates, in this case John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, neither of whom had anything to do with the operation.

So, take those slate mailers and chuck them. If you really want to know about the candidates, go to the League of Women Voters web site for Contra Costa County at http://www.smartvoter.org/ca/cc/.

A Contra Costa Times article on slate mailers follows:

Posted on Sun, Oct. 31, 2004
Trickery doesn't end on Halloween

Trickery abounds during Halloween, but no deceit is more devilishly cloaked than the campaign ghoul called the slate mailer. Especially the part where it says, "Take this card to the polls with you!"

Voters should analyze every slate with the same level of scrutiny they employ as they examine their children's trick-or-treat booty: If you're even a bit suspicious, pitch it in the trash.

Some mailers legitimately promote their publishers' ideologies, but many are commercial endeavors operated by political consultants who sell space to the highest bidder, then package and deploy their products in sophisticated marketing schemes.

To decode the slates you've received in the mail, start with the fine print in the tiny box titled "Notice to Voters."

It will spell out, more or less, who prepared the slate. (It's usually just lists a name and address, but you can tell whether an organization you know prepared the mailer.)

The disclaimer provides another key piece of information: Only those propositions and candidates marked with an asterisk (*) paid to appear on the mailer. Just because a candidate appears on a mailer doesn't mean he or she paid for it or agreed with the rest of the endorsements.

For instance, a mailer called "Your Ballot Guide," which lists a Sherman Oaks address, features an American flag inset with the Kerry-Edwards logo next to a list of recommended votes on eight statewide ballot propositions. That means the candidates and the Democratic Party concur with the measure endorsements, right?

Nope. Five of the eight endorsements are the exact opposite of the California Democratic Party's recommendations.

A mailer you may have gotten called "The California Voter Guide," this one with a Torrance address, reads: "Attention: Republicans." It lists George W. Bush as the preferred choice for president. (He didn't pay, either.) And just five of its recommendations match the California Republican Party's.

Beware of misleading titles, too.

The "Republican Voter Checklist" and the "Democratic Voters Choice" have no official connections to the parties.

A Times reporter and his wife -- one registered as a Democrat, one as an Independent -- recently received two versions of the "Voter Information Guide," one of the state's largest slates. It's published by a San Fernando Valley consultant who generally promotes Democrats.

One version was titled, "Voter Information Guide for Democrats," the second "Independent Voters' Guide."

But the contents are identical -- identically Democrat. There's no mention of candidates in the Independent party.

A Times editor with three young children found the "Parents' Ballot Guide" in her mailbox. (It lists the same Torrance address as the "California Voter Guide" and "The Early Voter.")

Are parents, as a group, in favor of Proposition 68, which could bring Las Vegas-style gambling to racetracks and card clubs? Maybe. Maybe not. Prop. 68 proponents paid $202,250 as of Sept. 30 to appear in this guide.

There's no question why slates exist. It's lucrative.

Eight of the state's best-known slates have collected nearly $6 million since January. (The secretary of state lists about 50 active slates, down from 220 a couple of years ago.)

Voters may rightfully ask why so many candidates and campaigns pour scads of money into this obscure cottage industry. For one, they may worry that their opponents will appear on the slate offer if they don't.

And slates are cheap compared with the cost of producing and mailing individual brochures.

It can cost $10,000 or more to distribute a single four-page, color mailer in a large city or supervisorial district.

Compare that with the $700 to $750 several Richmond City Council candidates paid to appear in "Your Ballot Guide" or the $2,300 a political action committee paid the parents guide publisher to list a Contra Costa supervisor candidate.

So don't take them to the polls. That's like dressing up as a ghost for Halloween but forgetting to cut eyeholes in the sheet.