When professional political operatives design campaigns for or against those seeking public offices or ballot measures, they habitually create images that would obfuscate reality and trick voters.
We in the media do what we can to cut through the political pros' puffery – and sometimes succeed – but the latter have a vast array of tools to peddle imagery that helps their clients.
Last week, however, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and a state appellate court imposed some limits on political snake oil.
The former adopted new rules aimed at one of the most noxious political practices – so-called "slate mailers" that purport to give voters advice on marking their ballots from responsible-sounding organizations, but are really just commercial ventures that sell their "endorsements" to the highest bidders.
Paid endorsements are supposed to be identified on these mailers now, but the rules are so lax as to be useless. Under the new rules, disclaimers must be written in plain language and in color. They also must disclose paid endorsements that are purchased by someone other than the candidate or ballot measure committee, thus closing a huge loophole.
Bob Stern, a veteran political reformer who served on a committee that recommended the change, said even political sophisticates can be fooled into thinking slate mailers represent official political party recommendations. "There are some people who are clearly misled by slate mailers," he added.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal, meanwhile, sided with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Organization, which had challenged the Legislature's seamy practice of dictating official summaries and titles of measures it places on the ballot, thus bypassing the attorney general's authority to write those important words.
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