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#ShowUsYourMailers: Pro-Saldaña Super PAC Stretches Truth

Campaign mailers sent by a super PAC supporting Lori Saldaña for San Diego Co...

Above: Campaign mailers sent by a super PAC supporting Lori Saldaña for San Diego County supervisor are seen here.

The race for District 4 county supervisor is getting ugly, as evidenced by a group of recent mailers attacking candidate Nathan Fletcher and supporting Lori Saldaña.

Fletcher and Saldaña are both Democrats, both teachers (Fletcher at UC San Diego, Saldaña at the Community College District) and both former members of the state Assembly. Also in the race are Omar Passons, a Democrat and land use attorney, Ken Malbrough, a Democrat and retired deputy fire chief, and Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican and retired district attorney.

The County Board of Supervisors oversees public health and social welfare programs, as well as land use in the county's unincorporated areas. The seat representing District 4, which stretches from Southeast San Diego to La Jolla, is being vacated by termed-out Ron Roberts. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes on June 5, the top two finishers will compete in a November runoff.

Photo credit: KPBS

A map of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 4.

Fletcher has been endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party, labor unions and a number of Democratic elected officials. Passons has the backing of several community and nonprofit leaders, small business owners, the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board and the left-leaning San Diego Free Press. Dumanis has the endorsements of law enforcement unions, the San Diego County Republican Party and right-leaning groups such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Club.

Saldaña's main endorsement is from a breakaway labor organization called the San Diego Working Families Council. That group sent the mailers through an independent expenditure committee, or "super PAC." Saldaña is forbidden from coordinating her official campaign with the committee.

KPBS fact-checked these mailers and found some false and misleading information that lacks context.

Who's greener?

Two mailers focus on environmental issues, and say Saldaña has 100 percent lifetime ratings from the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. That appears to be true for the League of Conservation Voters, but the Sierra Club faulted her for three votes taken in 2009. This would give her six years in the legislature a 96 percent rating.

Neither environmental organization has endorsed Saldaña for county supervisor. In fact, the local chapters of both organizations have endorsed Fletcher.

The mailer also claims Saldaña "wrote California's landmark legislation to prevent global warming." This appears to refer to AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Saldaña was one of 39 assembly members listed as co-authors — but she did not introduce it, nor was she the bill's "principal co-author." Being a co-author of a bill does not necessarily mean a legislator had a key role in writing the legislation.

Finally, the mailer says Saldaña is a co-founder of San Diego Earth Day. According to current San Diego Earth Day CEO Carolyn Chase: "This statement is misleading and, at its heart, untrue." Chase said in an email that she and Saldaña were both members of a volunteer ad hoc group that met for about six months starting in the fall of 1989 and organized a handful of events around Earth Day in 1990. That group disbanded, Chase said, "due to, charitably-speaking (sic), irreconcilable differences."

"Ms. Saldana at the time declined to be involved in keeping the group going and withdrew her participation," Chase said. "She had no role in founding the ongoing group named and registered with the State of California as San Diego Earth Day."

Saldaña later posted photos of news clippings to her Facebook page citing her as a spokeswoman for Earth Day events in 1990 and 1991. San Diego Earth Day was founded as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 1993.

Gun control

Two other mailers sent by the super PAC attack Fletcher for his past votes on gun control. When Fletcher was a Republican in the Assembly, he did indeed cast votes against certain gun control measures. But the mailer's claim that Fletcher has a "93% lifetime NRA rating" is misleading.

The mailer cites information from VoteSmart.org, which aggregates third-party ratings of politicians up for re-election. The most recent NRA data that VoteSmart has, however, is from Fletcher's 2010 campaign for the Assembly. It does not contain votes from his final two years in the legislature, and thus cannot be considered a "lifetime" rating.

After Fletcher left the Republican Party in March 2012, he cast a handful of votes in favor of gun control legislation that Republicans and the NRA opposed. His campaign also pointed to a handful of gun control bills he supported in the Assembly when he was still a Republican. Most of those bills received bipartisan, sometimes unanimous, support.

County supervisors have little, if any, oversight of firearms. Guns are mostly regulated by the state and federal governments. The one local elected official who has authority over firearm issues is the county sheriff, who can issue concealed carry weapon permits.

Dan Rottenstreich, a spokesman for the Fletcher campaign, said in a statement on the mailers: "These are lies and distortions right out of the Republican playbook and Democrats aren't going to be fooled."

RELATED: District 4 Supervisor Candidates Sound Off On Homelessness

Who mailed them?

The San Diego Working Families Council is a group of labor unions that broke away from the main union umbrella group, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, in 2017. Fletcher has the backing of the Labor Council.

Most of the super PAC's money is coming from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Laborers' International Union of North America, Local 89. UFCW's local chapter is headed by Mickey Kasparian, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in three separate lawsuits. Kasparian denied wrongdoing, and the lawsuits were settled out of court.

UFCW and LIUNA have both staked out more moderate positions on issues in San Diego County. Kasparian supported Myrtle Cole in her 2016 bid to become president of the San Diego City Council, while other unions backed Councilman David Alvarez, whom they saw as more progressive.

LIUNA's local chapter also supported Measure A, the countywide sales tax measure, in 2016. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which is part of the Labor Council and leans more progressive on environmental issues, opposed Measure A because it did not have union-friendly hiring provisions built into the tax measure's spending plans.

Saldaña said earlier this year she had "no plans" to accept an endorsement from the Working Families Council while Kasparian was president. She has since said she did not think the council was going to offer an endorsement in the supervisor's race, and that she accepted the endorsement only after the Labor Council gave an "early strategic endorsement" to Fletcher without interviewing other candidates. Fletcher's wife, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, previously led the Labor Council before her election to the state Assembly.

"Plans change in response to changing conditions, and that's what happened," Saldaña said in an interview.

Video by Matt Bowler

The race for District 4 county supervisor is getting ugly, as evidenced by a group of recent mailers attacking candidate Nathan Fletcher and supporting Lori Saldaña.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Saldaña's rating from the Sierra Club.

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