5/31/08

Unions routinely violate state laws

Especially when politics is involved

Four mailers costing nearly $50,000 issued by a labor coalition on behalf of west Sonoma County supervisor candidate Maddy Hirshfield have rivals complaining that they may violate campaign spending rules. They say that while the mailers were paid for by an independent group, they look identical to Hirshfield's own campaign material.

Attorney Eric Koenigshofer, a former supervisor representing the west county and a leading backer of candidate Efren Carrillo, said mailers issued by the Hirshfield campaign and by the coalition are so close in message, text, photos and content that they appear to violate state laws regarding expenditures by independent groups.

"If you are acting at the behest of the candidate, you are not independent," Koenigshofer said. "I think they are breaking the law, plain and simple."

However, Nick Caston, spokesman for the labor coalition, defended the group's mailers. He said the material was drawn from the group's contact with Hirshfield and the mailers were produced independently of the Hirshfield campaign.

"Everything that we said in our mailers is based on our experience with her," Caston said. "We are supporting Maddy's record, her work on the issues. We have not seen her mail pieces."

The coalition identifies itself as a single entity -- Sonoma Young Democrats for a Sustainable Environment Community-Based Healthcare -- SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and IBEW Local 551. The group has filed four independent expenditure reports with local elections officials indicating it has spent more than $48,000 on four mailings that support Hirshfield.

Hirshfield, a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Patty Berg, is one of eight candidates on Tuesday's ballot seeking to succeed Mike Reilly, who is not seeking re-election.

State law allows unlimited expenditures by independent committees as long as they are distinct from a candidate's campaign. The law prohibits an independent group expenditure if it "replicates, reproduces, republishes or disseminates, in whole or substantial part, a communication designed, produced, paid for or distributed by the candidate."

Campaign mailers from the labor coalition use photos of Hirshfield sitting on a hillside and walking through tall grass with six people that are identical to photos on Hirshfield's mailers. They also mimic the phrasing "acting locally" that appears on Hirshfield's mailers and yard signs.

"Some of the text mirrors what's on Hirshfield's material," Koenigshofer said. "The only difference I can see is that the coalition material has a square dot over the letter 'i' and Maddy's has a round dot."

(pressdemocrat.com)

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