Jeff Jardine

Endorsements for sale; candidates among those propositioned

Modesto resident James Holden holds the COPS Voter Guide in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016.
Modesto resident James Holden holds the COPS Voter Guide in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. aalfaro@modbee.com

The folks who create political campaign mailers probably don’t like people like James Holden.

Why? Because the 71-year-old Modesto resident is one of those annoying individuals who actually reads the obligatory fine print.

They don’t want you to do that. They want you to read the big, bold type that proclaims life barely will be worth living, the world will end or, at the very least, your pets face grave danger if you vote for the other side.

Thus, a vote for Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, is a vote for the Grinch, aka Donald Trump. A vote for Michael Eggman is like inviting ISIS to the family reunion, or, worse yet, Nancy Pelosi into your home. In virtually every hit-piece mailer, the other candidate is owned by special interests, totally incompetent or completely wrong about climate change.

Holden, a retired city administrator, said he actually reads the mailers – including the words most difficult to see.

“I find them distressing. They just feed into the cynicism so prevalent these days,” he said.

The one he received in the mail earlier this week left him shaking his head in disgust.

“I find it misleading and dishonest,” he said.

Titled the “COPS Voter Guide” and bearing a badge atop the masthead, it is the type of ad called a “slate mailer.”

It looks really official, giving the impression that all the candidates or propositions listed on the mailer are endorsed by a major public safety organization. In fact, the COPS Voter Guide once was aligned with the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, hence the acronym COPS. But that association ended years ago, according to The Bay Reporter, an online publication.

COPS Voter Guide now is a pay-to-play mailer run by Kelley Moran of Folsom, who did not return my call, just as a representative of the stated nonpartisan public advocacy organization failed to respond to then-Bee reporter Adam Ashton’s inquiry for a news story in 2008. The guide rakes in millions of dollars statewide by selling advertisements under the guise of “endorsements,” and is just one of many slate mailers operating legally in the state and targeting specific groups of voters.

The small print on this one tells voters who have great eyesight or trifocals that COPS Voters Guide Inc. is not an official political party organization, that it doesn’t “necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer.”

COPS Guide Inc. lists zero members.

Here’s the part people need to read, as Holden did: “Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an * (asterisk).”

A $ (dollar sign) would have been more fitting.

Local buyers listed in the mailer Holden received include Denham*; Assemblyman Adam Gray*, D-Merced; and Measure L*, the half-percent transportation sales tax on the ballot. It tells you to vote “yes” on Propositions 51, 52, 54, 57, 60 and 66. It tells you to nix Propositions 53, 56, 61 and 62. Each of those numbers is followed by an asterisk as well, noting its backers paid the COPS Voter Guide for its blessing.

The amount each paid should become public today, when the ongoing campaign reporting period ends. The costs are determined by the number of mailers to be sent out in each candidates district, said former Modesto City Councilman Dave Lopez, who said he was approached by the COPS Voter Guide during one election cycle several years ago.

“They wanted $520,” Lopez told me at his downtown Modesto market, adding that the endorsement would go to the highest bidder. He said “No, thanks.”

When his opponents didn’t buy it, a COPS Voter Guide representative contacted him again.

“They came back to me and said we can get you in there for $275,” Lopez said. He wasn’t buying.

Neither is Holden, who said the candidates are wasting their money where he is concerned. He looks at their stands on the issues, their reputations and their track records, he said.

Gray and Denham have received plenty of real endorsements from real public safety organizations or law enforcement officials. Measure L, too. Real endorsements are earned, not bought.

No asterisk with an explanation in the fine print, Holden said, should be necessary.

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