Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Visit the Midday Edition homepage

Election 2012: The Tricky Business Of Slate Mailers

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available.

August 6, 2012 1:24 p.m.


Ryann Grochowski is a reporter with KPBS' media partner, Investigative Newsource

Carl Luna, professor of political science, Mesa College

Related Story: Campaign Mailers: A Tricky Business


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The KPBS investigative team finds some political mailers create strange campaign bedfellows. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Political insiders call them slate mailers. And if you ever thought you could trust campaign advertising, wait till you hear about these ads. San Diego media received a fake press release last week claiming US attorney was starting to close pharmacies. We'll talk to a constitutional lawyer about the legality of that kind of hoax. And a challenging outrageous surreal excursion into youth theater. We'll hear about the premiere of UBU. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next. First the news. It is voter beware when it comes to some political mailers in San Diego and participants in San Diego's US attorney folks now have nothing to say to the media. This is KPBS Midday Edition edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, August 6. Here are some of San Diego's stories we're following in the KPBS newsroom. Members of San Diego's Sikh community are reacting with shock and sadness at the news of yesterday shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin which you heard on NPR. Seven people including the shooter were killed. Advocates of affordable housing in San Diego today are celebrating 10 years placing low-income families in homes. They are also announcing plans for construction of new affordable units. And the plan to make San Diego a mecca for electric vehicles has hit a speed bump. 1500 charging stations were planned. So far just 220 have been installed. Some businesses say they don't want to lose parking spaces to those charging stations. Listen for the latest news through the day right here on KPBS. Our top story on Midday Edition, we are just weeks away from the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions. And the resumption of political advertising both nationally and here in San Diego in the lead up to the general election if it is anything like the primary prepared to be inundated with political commercials on your TV and political fires in your mailbox. It's wise to be skeptical of all the ads you receive, but our investigative news sources found slate mailers in particular to be a potential source of voter confusion. I'd like to introduce my guests. Ryann Grochowski is a reporter with KPBS media partner investigative news source, Ryann welcome to the show.

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Hello, thanks for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Carl Luna is a professor of political science at Mesa college and Carl welcome back.

CARL LUNA: Good to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ryann are all the political mailers we receive slate mailers?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: No they are not. A slate mailer is a particular type of political advertisement and you will know the difference because it will show a whole slate of candidates that will be suggested for you to vote for. Now the Democratic Party and the Republican Party also put out slate mailers and if they are from official party then you usually know that that is sanctioned by that party. But a slate mailer can also be put out from a for profit organization and those candidates pay to be on the slate mailer and welfare kind of generally grouped as perhaps being for education or for public safety it's, most the people pay to be on merit and to be associated with a mailer. So you will see a small disclaimer at the bottom of every slate mailer that a candidate has be to be on and that is how you know the difference.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But Carl, sometimes everybody knows they've received these things and look at them twice and three times and say you know, is this for real?but I'm wondering it seems to be that these mailers are specifically designed to be difficult to tell if the actual bill is from the political parties.

CARL LUNA: (Inaudible) relies on name recognition for the candidate simply to be on them and associate the candidate with something that will strike a chord with a certain number of households that will receive the. If you put a fireman on people think the firemen's Association will endorse it if you pick up on it or a small business owner they think of the small business Association and it gives you an extra bump by Association even if the Association could be misleading.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As Ryann said these are businesses that sort of take money from candidates and produce the mailers. What kind of businesses do this? Is this sort of industry?

CARL LUNA: In politics anything that you need to do to get elected industries around this you see people collecting signatures outside of Vons or Trader Joe's they are being paid and there's a company that puts of them. Slate mailers fill the need particularly for candidates who don't have a lot of money or name recognition it is a cheap way to get your name out there to the public maybe because you have Barack Obama on their or representative Ryann on it it will get a certain constituency to vote for you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have examples of slate mailers for listeners of the website Ryann describe to us the mailers that you've seen.

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Sure first of all you will see that we've got a lot of that and we ask people to bring them in and a great deal of political advertisements that we received were these slate mailers and I'm holding one here. We talked about it in my story this morning on the election digest. It says it's put out by the coalition for literacy and you will see the top name and it is slate of suggested candidates as US Pres. Barack Obama obviously a Democrat. Right underneath is U.S. Senate Diane Feinstein, another Democrat. You'll notice there is no asterix next to their name which means they do not pay to be on there, and as you go down we see assembly members and Superior Court Judge candidates and as we mentioned, Gary creep, who need this kind of against the president in general, believes that he wasn't born in a country and just does not support him, appears on the same slate mailer asking people to vote for him. So you can see where there could be some confusion there somebody sees Obama and Feinstein and thinks well I'm a Democrat so they're all my decisions are made for me you are inadvertently voting for somebody who's actually pretty conservative candidate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think many of our listeners will be familiar with the primary race between Gary creep that Carlin prefer the supreme court judgeship between the odd names would distinguish the resend it that comes with the fact that Gary creep received about reading from the lawyers Association that reads candidate for their acceptability to become superior court judges and we also had a clip from an evening edition interview with Gary creep that we did. He was talking about the president who he appears without the slate mailer. Here's what he said.


Do you think Barack Obama is a citizen of the United States?

I have sincere doubts according to grandmother who stated in a public statement nobody has disputed he was born in (inaudible) which is in Kenya and he performed the Zulu birthright

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, Carl he doesn't support the president where we want to be on a mailer with Obama and Diane Feinstein?

CARL LUNA: A vote is a vote is a vote. You pay the Mailers the company will pitch on whatever mailer say think you can get out to the public within it obviously worked out Mr. creep when the election.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ryann you look into some of the businesses that that the mailers what did you find out

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: First the same thing as Judge Cooper. Here and Prof. Linda has said as well as Superior Court candidates a lot of them to pay to be obvious and you will see a examples I have here every single one has Superior Court Judge candidates and that is because as we said it is a very cheap way to get your name out and those are clearly high-profile high fundraising cases so a lot of judge candidates to pay to be on here and as far as the companies innovate have to be registered with the Secretary of State so if you are able to go on the website and look at all the financial information and how many are currently active in there are about 90 that are currently active in the state. And naming, as Prof. Luna said, kind of just specify in this business of campaign strategy, campaign consulting and putting out the slate mailers in some of them, one company puts out about six or seven types and it is all from the same company putting them out. But they put out public safety guide or women's voting guide but it is also the same company.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: According to your report a crime is a confusing for both Democratic and Republican voters approved spoke with Tony Clark the Republican Party chairman in San Diego.

CARL LUNA: Yes we do see that all the time and Republican so by onto Democratic slate mailers what's important to notice that these aren't Republican or Democratic whatsoever it is just a business. Anybody can set up in a Democratic women voters guide and sell space on it and mail it to Democratic women and often they will take a high-profile candidate of the party that it's trying to represent to try and associate the two. And so it's important to know, voters need to do, do their homework.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does covert think of the tactic of these mailers, Ryann?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: As (inaudible) said he doesn't support it and as he said it's not a republican, it's not Democrat, it's a business and that's what most of these are our for-profit businesses and you know people are making money off of them. You can go on to the Secretary of State's website and look to see how much they've charged candidates and how much they've spent putting them out and it usually almost always has a prophet. And you know, it's just as you said some Republicans will pay to be put on Democratic leaning on said Democrats will pay to become Republican ones. You just have to make sure that you know that that is not always going to be supported by the official San Diego County Democrats or Republicans.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So these are basically candidates of either party kind of going it alone to try to secure their election?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Sure, yeah, like I said especially Superior Court candidates. I love to see the ones in our County that were running for election in June and I think nearly all is not every single one. At least some money to appear on slate cards and it is just a cheap way to get your name out. The problem is a lot of them can be mislead misleading if you don't look closely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just for fair play you did speak to a Democrat about the slate mailers what did she have to say to you?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: She contacted us


RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Her name is Nadine Scott. She's a voter in Oceanside she's also a big (inaudible) and a democratic Oceanside voter so she does pay attention to these but she contacted us and she actually had Some of them from the election and showed me them and it was what we were seeing that you have high-profile Democratic names at the top of a mailer and then as you went down there were some more conservative candidates and she felt like she and some other voters that she had talked to could have been or have pictured by these.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And here is Nadine's clip.

RECORDING: The shame of these types of slate mailers that are just bought and paid for advertisements are people like you. Creep get elected to a judgeship, that is just an outrage that someone like that could appear to be endorsed by Democrats. And undoubtedly he had a pretty good strong Democratic vote because judgeships typically will not (inaudible).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So do politicians, Carl know that the tactic is being used?

CARL LUNA: They noted, many will use it to be elected and many show up without the extracts meaning they didn't pay for because they're public domain figures means their names can't be used it's always interesting to me that if you put out an ad with Mickey Mouse on it and if you have your product and implied that Disney supported you would be sued from here to the end of the universe but in politics it is free speech you can pretty much say anything you wanted it is complete caveat emptor, buyer beware.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I guess people are against what it is a mistaken impression that somebody is reviewing the materials, somebody is giving them the okay but what you are describing, what you are both describing here, Carl and Ryann is the fact that anybody has the price of a mailer can just put up basically anything they want to.

CARL LUNA: That is correct. Something like half the people who read National Enquirer think you can't publish anything because it's not true same thing applies to these people get the impression people think they were endorsed by groups that don't actually endorse the big problem with this industry is that it is to liberally misleading. You would not be able to do this in any other area of advertising implications they are making from it. In politics so it is up to the voters to be educated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ryann, is part of your reporting on this to explore who might be susceptible to being misled by the mailers?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Sure, you know, you see right here that disclaimer on, and that by a lot the Secretary of State requires that a slate mailers have the small disclaimers. Well I don't know about me, but I can't to read this type. Clearly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Number one people with vision problems.

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: Sure that looks like four, five point type and I don't have great vision but I really need to hold it up to my eyes to see, but somebody who's older, someone with vision problems like you said and you really have to read that and if you do read it, it does its appearance at this Miller does not necessarily imply endorsement appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate who has an Asterix. I mean, if you don't see that or you don't read the disclaimer even with perfect vision are you really going to look at it? Those are the people that can be duped by these are really anybody can be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I guess across the board with people just aren't paying attention to the election, get these things in the mail as we said we think somebody's giving them the okay we take a look at them and if you support the president you think he maybe should support of the people who are listed under his name on the mailer.

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: The whole strategy behind this you're going to send out most of us gets dozens of these in the mail-in election season if you can get just a small percentage of households that receive each individual type to change a vote, influence of (inaudible) the going to be a small number in elections like for Judge local elections with low voting turnout forwarded can be significant. In elections for Congress anything higher than the ballot propositions it's only going to play, margins and something very close but again it is kind of a form of a bait and switch.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do today's mailers perhaps have a tendency to undermine the effectiveness of every type of political mailer? At least undermine the integrity?

CARL LUNA: Only the reason the party leaders to lick the mailers as you spend a lot of time building your brand and it's hard to control it when anybody can play off your brand. Labor unions business associations get played by this. Again in the private session sector you use Walmarts. Without permission you will get sued here it's anybody can do anything and it does lead to a number of voters getting drowned out after you've told the 4000 one of these in the trash you are less likely to vote than it if you've got none at all.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Ryann what is the lesson here?

RYANN GROCHOWSKI: I would say and I'm sure Prof. Luna would agree with me, do your research if you want to be an informed voter maybe look at these see what they have to say but do not base your vote on it. You know, it really takes a couple minutes to go online, Google a candidate, really see what they stand for. And I would just say you know as we said voter beware, buyer beware and voter beware. Take a look at who is in here and who you would want to support with your vote.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH2: I'm speaking with Ryann Grachowski and Carl Luna, professor at Mesa college thank you both very much.

CARL LUNA: Thank you