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KPBS Wants You To #ShowUsYourMailers

Political mailers can be sent by candidates' official campaigns or by outside groups like super PACs.
Political mailers can be sent by candidates' official campaigns or by outside groups like super PACs.

KPBS Wants You To #ShowUsYourMailers
KPBS is asking you to help us track and analyze political mailers throughout the election. We're starting with a deep dive into two mailers with suspicious motivations for influencing the San Diego city attorney's race.
KPBS Wants You To #ShowUsYourMailers
KPBS Wants You To #ShowUsYourMailers GUESTS:Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS Laura Fink, political consultant, Fink & Hernandez Consulting Bob Schuman, political consultant, The Schuman Group

I am to have welshes is KPBS news in San Diego beercheck our top story on midday edition in these last days before the June primary, mailboxes are getting stuffed with political flyers. Who is sending out all of these mailers and white? Are there better ways of contacting voters in the 21st century than snail mail flyers? That is what we will be discussing this morning and you can be part of the story, KPBS is a new project to fact check the claims from mailers you get home it is called show us your mailers Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew welcome. Hi Maureen. Tell us about the show is your mailers program. Started it because mailers are ubiquitous in the season if you registered to vote you are giving them certainly in your malloc salmon, misleading, some are inaccurate some are confusing by design. So, they are also very hard to track and there is no online database for them so we thought we would charge grantors it and use our listeners to help track and analyze them and make sense of them for the voters. Are mailers and increasing part of our political reality because of citizens United? I think say aspirate the 2010 U. S. Supreme Court decision, citizens United, declare that money is a foremost region that legal limits to raising money and political campaigns is unconscious additional. So super PACs that was the birth of super PACs are you see them at all levels, federal, state, local races. Male partners a super back supporting him in some of the city attorney candidates have super PACs and mailers are one way to spend all of that unlimited amount of money that is being spent to influence elections. The first mail you fact checked was from the San Diego city attorney's race from group backing Republican Robert Hickey. What is a member look like? On one side as a stock photo of a multiracial family at the dinner table and is us who do we want as our next to the attorney? Get a sightless three candidates, there are actually five, the three that are listed are Robert Hickey, who is the Republican, Rafael Castellanos and Mara Elliott enabled Democrats. It is not mentioned to two other Democrats, Gil Cabrera and Bryan Pease I was addressing about the design of the mailers that Rafael Castellanos is one center and has a big blue box outlining him and that is the same color as the text that reads next city attorney next to it so it looked, the group that send these out support Robert Hickey, but the mailer could easily be mistaken for a endorsement of Rafael Castellanos. Why would aprotic a group want to promote cost the one is a Democrat smartness fact that is the big question.. Gil Cabrera said he things that these groups the cost on us as the weaker candidate in November and he would be easier to be if Hickey makes it through to the November election and runoff, that is not an unprecedented strategy in San Diego politics essentially picking a loser and as far as reasons why he might be weaker, Gill said that there was a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Rafael Castellanos in his former employer, the lawsuit was settled that he says it was just a case of a disgruntled ormer employees indicated and regardless of the merits of the loss to discuss -- Castellanos makes it through you to be sure that someone is going to use a lawsuit against him. Bryan Pease said that he thinks that Castellanos is supported in the mailer because he is simply more in line with the interests of conservative causes like businesses and developers. Castellanos is a real estate and land-use attorney and talks about urbanists division for San Diego and with that would involve the development . Bryan Pease thinks that Castellanos is a lease progressive and he is the one that the GOP could live with. We able to track down who made the ad?] Is on the add that is funded by super back supported by the Lincoln club and that is a conservative pro-business organization in San Diego that supports local GOP candidates. I asked the Lincoln club president who is running this, if he had any, and he said that it was run by Jason Roe was a Republican strategist in San Diego. He is also working for the reelection campaign of Mayor Faulconer and Mr. Roh declines to be interviewed for this. Taking himself, Robert Hickey, has actually disavowed these mailers. I asked him what he had to say and he said they are doing more harm than good other priorities listed on the mailer do not reflect why he is running for office. Of course it is important to note that his campaign is legally debited from coordinating with the super back so he does not have any influence over what they do outside of making statements in the media saying we want this to stop. We have more stories plan on the ads, Andrew how can listeners share mailers with us for analysis? Is that you can tweet is that the twitter handle at KPBS news with the hashtag ShowUsYourMailers you can also email KPBS mailers that KPBS.org and of course go to the website KPBS.org we go into more detail about this mailer in our listeners can collaborate with us I've been speaking with Andrew Bowen KPBS Metro reporter.

You may have noticed a flood of political fliers in your mailbox lately. Some are sent by the candidates' official campaigns, while others are sent by outside groups — often "independent expenditure committees," more commonly known as super PACs. Either way, tracking these mailers can be difficult, and some are even designed to confuse voters.

That's why KPBS is asking you to share with us mailers you get at home. We will use them to fact check the claims and see if the claims vary by who is receiving the mailer.

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When you receive a mailer, tweet a picture of it to @KPBSnews with the hashtag #ShowUsYourMailers, or e-mail it to kpbsmailers@kpbs.org. You can also submit it through our Public Insight Network query. We will do our best to catalogue them and, when possible, analyze them. We will make sure to erase your name and address from any photo we publish.

We're starting with two mailers sent recently to voters across San Diego in support of city attorney candidate Robert Hickey. Hickey is the lone Republican in the race. The four Democrats opposing him are Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Mara Elliott and Bryan Pease. Under state law, the party affiliations of candidates in local races cannot be listed on the ballot.

RELATED: Candidates For San Diego City Attorney Emphasize Experience

The first mailer sent out by a conservative super PAC features three of the five candidates for San Diego city attorney.
The first mailer sent out by a conservative super PAC features three of the five candidates for San Diego city attorney.

Who mailed it?

The mailers were paid for by a super PAC funded by the conservative Lincoln Club and the William D. Lynch Co., whose namesake has supported other conservative campaigns in the past.

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The super PAC, called "Citizens for a Safe San Diego supporting Bob Hickey for City Attorney 2016," has raised $70,000 since March from only those two donors.

Lincoln Club President Brian Pepin said the super PAC was headed by Jason Roe, a local Republican strategist who also works for Mayor Kevin Faulconer's re-election campaign. Roe did not respond to a request for comment.

What does it mean?

Several elements of the mailers are confusing — chief among them the prominent featuring of Castellanos, and, in the first mailer, the blue box highlighting him that matches the color of the text reading "Next City Attorney." The text below also highlights his interest in "community justice for poor and underrepresented communities."

These all suggest the mailer is designed to promote Castellanos as the Democratic candidate to face Hickey in a November runoff. Since there are five candidates running for city attorney, it's likely that no candidate will win the absolute majority on June 7 needed to bypass the November election.

The mailers conspicuously fail to mention two of the four Democrats in the race, Cabrera and Pease. Cabrera said the mailers appear to have gone out to registered Democrats, and that he thought the conservative groups behind them saw Castellanos as the easiest candidate for Hickey to beat in November.

"If they prefer to take Rafael on in the fall, they're not going to want to increase my name ID with Democratic households," Cabrera said in a phone interview. He suggested Hickey's supporters see Castellanos as weaker in the November election because of a years-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Castellanos and his former employer. The lawsuit was settled, and Castellanos says he was vindicated.

Pease agreed that the mailers were designed to win Democratic votes for Castellanos, but had a slightly different interpretation of the conservative groups' motivation. Castellanos works largely in land use and real estate law, and has his own super PAC supporting him. Pease said Castellanos was simply the Democrat most in line with business and developers' interests.

"Republicans in San Diego don't mind liberals as long as they're good for powerful special interests and developers," Pease said in an email. "I'm not calling Castellanos a conservative. He's liberal, but not progressive."

For his part, Castellanos said he had no idea what the intent of the Lincoln Club mailer was, but noted he had not sought the Lincoln Club's endorsement or filled out its questionnaire, whereas Cabrera and Elliott both had (the Lincoln Club's endorsement procedure took place before Pease entered the race).

“I am first and foremost focused on my own campaign communications and worry little about what other candidates or groups do," Castellanos said in a statement.

The second mailer features two of five city attorney candidates.
The second mailer features two of five city attorney candidates.

Is it accurate?

Much of the fliers' information is misleading, outdated or inaccurate. The first flier states Castellanos opposed San Diego's pension reform measure, Proposition B, which voters approved in 2012. A Castellanos spokesman said while the candidate voted against Proposition B, he would vigorously defend it in court if directed to do so by the City Council. The flier also mentions Castellanos' affiliation with the La Raza Lawyers Association. Castellanos was the group's president from 2012 to 2013, but it was an unpaid volunteer position.

Mara Elliott is mentioned on the first flier but not the second. It erroneously states she has the endorsement of her boss, current City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Goldsmith, who cannot run again because of term limits, has a quote on Elliott's website praising her, but he says he has not endorsed anyone in the race. The flier also calls Elliott "Jan Goldsmith's Chief Deputy." Elliott is one of 20 chief deputy city attorneys. The office's second-in-command is Executive Assistant City Attorney Paul Cooper.

Lastly, the flier says Elliott's position on pension reform is unknown. Elliott said in an interview with the Voice of San Diego last year that she thought new city employees should have pensions — which Proposition B prohibited. She added: "The voters spoke, our office is implementing it, we'll see what happens as time goes on... but the real effects are felt by those of us who work in the city... I understand the concept of, 'Let's get a grasp on pension, let's reform it. But when you take that away, and you don't raise the salaries for employees, you have a retention issue."

Under Hickey's priorities, both mailers say he would "enforce the law and put criminals in jail." A spokeswoman for Hickey sent the following statement in an email:

Those mailers do not reflect Robert Hickey's message or motivation for seeking the office. We believe they are doing more harm than good and wish they would stop. Robert is confident in his ability to win in November, regardless of who emerges in June. Robert Hickey has not been talking about increased incarceration, he has been talking about improving homeless outreach and rehabilitation programs.

Who's in those pictures?

The first mailer used a stock image of a multiracial family sitting at a table together. The same image has been used by the Tennessee Department of Health, the news site syracuse.com and the Council on Chemical Abuse.

The second mailer used another stock photo, this one of a multiracial group of people standing in an office. That image has been used by a Delaware chapter of Catholic Charities, the tourism site for the Australian city of Maroochydore and San Diego's own 211 hotline.

Both mailers also have a photo of Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsing Hickey. The rights to that photo belong to the Voice of San Diego. The online news site's editor-in-chief said the super PAC had not asked for permission to reprint it.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.