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Soft money plays hard part in council election

October 14, 2004

Dave Brooks

With the election only weeks away, mailboxes around Surf City have

begun brimming with campaign advertisements from some of the 16

candidates seeking one of three spots on the City Council this

November.

Mailers have become a popular way for candidates to connect with

voters, but often the return address is more telling than the issues

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the candidates tackle.

Take a look at the fine print and you'll find that a large portion

of local political mailings don't come from the candidates, but from

third-party groups that spend tens of thousands of dollars of "soft

money" to endorse their picks for City Council.

Financial filings with the City Clerk's office show that this

year's two biggest soft money contributors are the city's own police

and fire unions, both of which are entering their first round of

contract negotiations for 2005 with the City Council this Friday.

Each election, the unions endorse a slate of candidates and

purchase political advertising using money raised from union members.

This year the Huntington Beach Police Officer's Assn. has chosen to

endorse Don Hansen and Keith Bohr, and according to its political

action committee filings, it has $32,000 to spend on advertisements.

The Huntington Beach Firefighters Assn. has offered only to endorse

Bohr, and as of June it had $86,900 in the bank.

Huntington Beach's campaign finance laws allow candidates to

collect $300 maximum donations from individuals or organizations to

spend on their campaign. There is no limit on soft money donations

collected and spent by independent parties who are not officially

connected to any campaign. Since a union can't legally give a

candidate a check for $10,000, labor groups might instead spend that

much on campaign literature supporting a particular candidate and

mail it out independently.

"The majority of people go by those mailers," said Ed Kerins,

president of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. "It's something more tangible

than seeing a sign. The sign gives you name recognition, but the

mailer connects you to the candidate."

To get the endorsement, candidates have to go through an interview

process with the various unions, which have a strong record of

picking winners. Union President Russ Reinhart didn't show up for a

scheduled interview on this article, citing police duties, but under

his watch the police union endorsed three of the four winners in the

2002 election, spending nearly $9,000 in direct advertising for

Councilman Gil Coerper, and another $5,300 for Mayor Cathy Green and

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