s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

Campaign mailers usually are a positive in only one way: They increase the heft of the recycle bin. But a pair of mailers sent out this election season by several of Santa Rosa's public employee unions actually can be praised for an even larger contribution to society: They provide us with what's known as a "teachable moment."

The mailers ended up costing two of the unions $1,000 apiece in fines, since they violated Santa Rosa's campaign finance laws. But even though the lawmen and their fellow employees didn't follow the law, I believe we should be grateful to them all for all that this episode can teach us.

For example:

The city of Santa Rosa will actually enforce its campaign laws in a timely manner.

When City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre (who happens to support candidates other than those supported by the mailers) noticed that a piece of campaign literature largely paid for by police officers' unions didn't include all of the identifying information required by city law, she reported the apparent violation to the City Clerk's office. City officials looked into the matter and took quick action to fine the group responsible for the piece. In the course of their investigation, they discovered violations on another mailer sponsored by the firefighters' union, and fined them, too. The police and firefighter union representatives admitted their mistakes and agreed to pay the fines. If this had been a complaint to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the investigation would have taken months and the fine – if any – would have come long after the election was decided. This is what government efficiency looks like.

Campaign finance disclosure laws are a valuable tool.

Santa Rosa's campaign finance laws require that all campaign advertising include the identity of the top three donors responsible for funding that advertising. At a time when "independent" committees are increasing active – anonymously – in campaigns ranging from the Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board to state propositions to the presidential race, it is important for voters to know who is responsible for the money behind the candidates. A statewide effort to require such disclosure, known as the California Disclose Act, has languished in the Legislature, but Santa Rosa has the requirements in place.

Cops have a keen sense of irony.

The offending mailer put out by the police union carried the notation that it came from the "Committee for Civil City Hall." It touted the group's favored candidates' pledge to behave civilly toward each other on the City Council, and recommended a slate of candidates to "change the negative way things are done at City Hall." On the flip side, the mailer featured biting attacks against two other candidates.

Independent committee names often are aliases for familiar players.

While most independent committees can hide behind names such as "People for a Perfect Future" or "Citizens for Puppies and Apple Pie," the city ordinance forces political players to show at least a few of their cards when they put propaganda in your mailbox. In the case of "Committee for Civil City Hall" (did they leave an &‘a' out of that?), the group has filed disclosure statements showing contributions of $7,000 from the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, $5,000 from the Sonoma County Alliance and the $1,300 from the Sonoma Police Management Association, which represents the SRPD's "brass," according to Staff Writer Kevin McCallum's story. That information, which might help voters determine whether "civility" is really the group's primary concern, was left off the mailer. A police union spokesman said it was an "oversight," but the fact is that city law brought it to light. Hopefully, the city's willingness to levy a $1,000 fine will keep it from happening again on future mailers.

Some campaigns work together more closely than others.

Independent campaign committees, to stay within the law, are supposed to have no relationship or coordination with individual candidates. In the case of the mailer from the firefighters' union and City Employees Association that touted four candidates for City Council as "Team Players," it's pretty obvious that at least one of the favored candidates didn't get a chance to proof-read the ad before it went out to the public. Candidate Erin Carlstrom is repeatedly listed as "Erin Carlston."

These are all valuable lessons and I, for one, appreciate that our local police, firefighters and other city employees were willing collectively to spend more than $32,000 to get them into our mailboxes. Not to mention the additional $2,000 in fines that will go into city coffers.

That's a win-win in my book.

<i>Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.</i>