Friday, July 13, 2018

Four File Sworn Complaint Against City, Mayor and Several Councilmembers for Using Public Funds to Campaign for Measure M


Taxpayers’ Group Files Sworn Complaint with FPPC Over City Use of Public Funds to Campaign for Measure M

July 11, 2018. Long Beach, CA – Four taxpayer advocates today filed a sworn complaint with the State Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) alleging that the City of Long Beach violated the Political Reform Act by spending public funds to campaign for the passage of Measure M on the June ballot.
The complainants, Tom Stout, Diana Lejins, Joe Weinstein and Gerrie Schipske today issued the following statement:

“Today, we have filed a sworn complaint with the FPPC alleging that the City of Long Beach, through the Mayor and City Council, have violated the Political Reform Act by using taxpayer money (government resources) to send out several direct mail pieces that were clearly not ‘informational’ but campaign materials. We also believe that the Mayor and several Councilmembers utilized their city-paid cellphones and computers to send out misleading messages urging constituents to vote for Measure M. These messages told constituents that Measure M was “not a tax,” when in fact it is; that the transfers would be taken only from “surplus” which is false and that constituent utility rates would not be increased which is also false as they are being currently raised because of Measure M.

State law only allows the city to spend public money to provide ‘informational’ materials. Such materials must be in the ‘style, tone and timing’ that make them ‘informational’ and not advocacy.

Our complaint notes that the ‘style’ of the direct mail pieces were not the ‘regular’ way in which the City communicates information with voters. The City utilized a political consultant who targeted the mailers only to specific voters instead of all voters in the City. There are currently 259,839 registered voters or 147,579 households in Long Beach. The city-paid mail pieces were only sent to a targeted 63,741 households or 43%. If these mailers were truly ‘informational’, they would have been sent to all registered voters. These were campaign pieces.

We stressed in our complaint that the ‘tone and timing’ of these pieces also strongly underscore their campaign nature by pointing out that the direct mail pieces omitted crucial facts that Measure M is a ‘tax’ and that utility rates would be raised to pay for the transfer of funds from the utilities. The direct mail pieces also use inflammatory language threatening cuts to public safety and infrastructure if voters did not pass the measure, when in fact, no Council action had been taken to identify specific cuts related to the failure to pass Measure M.

Most egregious is the ‘timing’ of these materials to coincide with mailings from the Mayor’s Committee to Support the Utility Transfer: The City’s mailers omitted the fact that Measure M is a “tax” while the Mayor’s mailers stated: ‘Measure M is NOT a tax increase.’ The message to the voters was orchestrated to urge passage of Measure M.”

A copy of the complaint # COM-07112018-01244 is below.

  • The City of Long Beach violated the Political Reform Act by producing and mailing tens of thousands of copies of direct mail at government expense, titled “Common Questions and Answers on Measure M”:
1.       The direct mail pieces specifically were not “informational” in tone or contents as required, but in fact campaign pieces paid with government resources.
2.       The information provided and the manner in which they were disseminated were inconsistent with any established practice used by the City to circulate information.
3.       There are currently 259,839 registered voters or 147,579 households in Long Beach. The mail pieces were prepared by a direct mail consultant and mailed to only targeted (63,741 households) voters shortly before the upcoming election, which unquestionably constitutes campaign activity. If the pieces were truly “informational” they would have been sent to each and every voter in the City.
4.       The pieces contained inflammatory language to present the City’s position of support for passage.
5.       When considering the style, tenor, and timing of these communications, these mail pieces can be reasonably characterized as campaign material and not a fair presentation of facts serving only an informational purpose.
  • More specifically, the direct mail pieces (attached) were not a fair representation of facts in as much the mail pieces:
1.       Used inflammatory language by threatening to cut public safety, street maintenance, storm drains, parks, senior services, libraries and homelessness if the measure did not pass. The City council had taken no action to make these cuts nor produced any analysis indicating that these or any cuts would be made to services;
2.       Misled voters by failing to disclose that the measure was a “tax” as defined by Proposition 26. The seriousness of the omission of this material fact is compounded by the mailing at the same time of pieces by “Mayor Robert Garcia Committee to Support Utility Transfer Measure M Committee” stating that the measure was “not a tax increase” (see attached);
3.       Misled voters that the transfer would be “of surplus City utility revenues” when in fact the measure would allow a transfer based upon a percentage of the “utility’s annual gross revenues”; and
4.       Failed to further disclose that the measure allows the City Council and Water Commission “to approve water, sewer and gas rates in an amount sufficient to recover the costs of operating each utility, including Council/Board-approved utility revenue transfers to the General Fund.” That fact alone contradicts the direct mail piece which begins on side two with a statement that the measure would “explicitly authorize and affirm the transfer of surplus City utility revenues.”  Within less than a month after passage, the Water Commission sent a “Notice of Hearing” that water utility rates were being raised 7.2% as a result of “Long Beach voters approved Measure M authorizing continuing utility revenue transfer to the General Funds.” (see attached)
  • Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilmembers Suzie Price, Rex Richardson and Dee Andrews violated the Political Reform Act by:
    1. Sending emails, texts and tweets to voters on computers and cellphones paid for at government expense, with messages advocating for passage of the measure and specifically misleading voters with statements that the measure “is not a tax,”  that the transfers would only be on “surplus funds, ”  and that the measure “would not raise your utility rates.”(see attached).
    2. Complainant sent a letter to the Long Beach City Attorney requesting that these individuals be directed to stop and was informed that a privileged letter was issued by the City Attorney on the matter (see attached).  However, those messages were forwarded to others by voters using social media.

Conclusion:
The “style, tenor and timing” of these communications did not serve only “an informational purpose.” The City clearly orchestrated these mail pieces with the mail pieces sent by the Mayor’s Committee, to overwhelm voters and to bring about passage of the measure using government resources.

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