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    It Is Time to Clear Up Political Mail

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    The November 2020 Elections were pretty rough—and involved massive expenditures by wealthy corporations trying to buy their way, who sought special loopholes for themselves from laws everyone else has to follow. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in favor of money and corporate influence in political campaigns, we knew that the scales were going to tip in favor of well-funded deception and political dirty tricks.

    I know first-hand how far corporations will go to defeat a candidate who calls for fairness. Big companies like Uber and Lyft spent over $200 million in California to buy special rights for themselves. Lyft spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a local city council race, in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat me in my race for re-election to the Oakland City Council.

    They were spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight for Prop 22, to strip gig-workers of basic worker protections. Voters’ mailboxes were flooded with mail full of misinformation. The voters in Oakland saw through it, but the massive use of corporate money—often in deceptive ways—had harmful impacts statewide, and it is a threat that undermines our democracy.

    Some of these deceptive tactics included creating fraudulent “slate” mailers, which pretended to represent legitimate community advocacy groups, but actually were simply methods for wealthy corporations to send mail pieces to advocate for their positions while hiding the source of funds. 

    Oakland law requires that major funders be listed directly on the mail piece itself, and our campaign finance laws generally recognize that voters should have a right to know who funds various attack ads and election mail, to better understand the motivation and intentions of the people funding those efforts. The mail that was sent and funded by these large corporations, however, did not provide the disclosure of the source of funds.

    Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez sees the problem of deceptive slate mailers, and seeks to better deal with the effects of corporate influence and anti-democratic secretive political money in our politics. On December 7, Assemblywoman Gonzalez introduced a bill to deal with these issues: AB40. 

    A slate mailer is a piece of mass mail that lists support or opposition for four or more candidates or ballot measures. “Slate mailers are consistently used to try to deceive voters in our state, more so in this past election than ever before,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “This bill provides transparency to help voters make better informed decisions at the ballot box.”

    AB40 would require that additional disclosures be included on each slate mailer. There would be no more front names to hide behind. AB40 requires the organization or committee listed as sending out the slate mail to disclose the number of people who are actually members of the committee. Also, AB40 requires each candidate or ballot measure that paid to appear on the mailer to have the total amount paid listed underneath their name where they are listed as “endorsed.”

    Until Citizens United is overturned, we must do everything we can to reintroduce transparency back into campaigns and campaign financing. AB40 is an excellent step in the right direction.

    Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( https://twitter.com/Kaplan4Oakland ) and Facebook  ( https://www.facebook.com/Kaplan4Oakland/ ).

    Published on December 17, 2020