Lincoln Club Attack Mailer Violates Campaign Disclosure Laws
A campaign mailer sent by the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County to voters in the District 4 county supervisors race contains no disclosure of who paid for the mailer, in apparent violation of state law.
The mailer is an attack ad on Nathan Fletcher, one of four Democrats running for the seat. It was paid for by a "super PAC" funded by The Lincoln Club, which has endorsed Republican and retired District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Also in the race are Omar Passons, a Democrat and land use attorney, Ken Malbrough, a Democrat and retired deputy fire chief, and Lori Saldaña, a Democrat and former assemblywoman. District 4 includes the city of San Diego's urban core and beach communities
The Lincoln Club's committee, called Job Creators for a Strong Economy, has spent $40,370 on polling and nearly $120,000 on direct mail campaigns this month trying to keep Fletcher out of office.
It has also been running ads through a Facebook page called "Community Voices SD." The page's connection to The Lincoln Club was not mentioned on some of the ads, although it was disclosed under the page's "about" section.
Club President Brian Pepin said Facebook recently updated its disclosure policy to display a sponsored committee name for political ads. More recent ads from the Facebook page do, in fact, disclose their funding from The Lincoln Club.
Regarding the missing disclaimer on the mailer, Pepin said it was a mistake.
"There was an internal miscommunication during the production of that mailer which caused the problem with the disclaimer," Pepin said in an email. "The committee immediately self-reported the issue to the (state Fair Political Practices Commission) as soon as it arrived in mailboxes and we became aware of the problem. All of our other mail has consistently included disclaimers and will continue to do so."
Pepin added that the Lincoln Club committee had not yet been fined or sanctioned by the FPPC, which acts as a referee in accusations of campaign violations.
FPPC rules state disclosures must appear on all printed materials unless the political group sending them receives less than $2,000 in contributions a year — an exception that does not apply to The Lincoln Club's committee.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said the commission fields complaints from members of the public and rival campaigns and follows media reports to look for possible violations. If it finds a violation, penalties can range from a warning letter to a fine of up to $5,000.
First-time candidates are more likely to receive a warning letter, he said, and fines are likely to be lower if the violator took steps to correct the error.
But sometimes rule breakers can avoid facing any consequences until after an election is over. The FPPC meets only once a month to approve penalties, and Wierenga said the bulk of cases take up to six months to resolve. He said sometimes candidates or political groups knowingly break the rules hoping that sanctions will not be announced until votes are already cast.
"It's sometimes difficult to find the intent," he said. "But I would say it does happen. People will at times succumb to wanting to take shortcuts and do what they think is necessary at the time to have a positive outcome for themselves or their group."