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Political Slate Mailings Mix Issues and Business

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian, who has only token primary opposition, was outraged this past week when, without his consent, his name was put on a slate mailing that was also being used to oppose Proposition 51, the “deep-pockets” initiative that the governor strongly supports.

But a number of other Republicans who also support the initiative actually paid to get on the slate mailing, and seemed happy to be there--despite the slate’s no-on-51 recommendation. These Republicans were in real primary contests, and they were more than willing to be on anything that was going to reach 2 million Republican households, especially if buying a spot on the mailer would keep their opponents off of it.

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The situation points up one of the cardinal facts about slates, the mass mailings that promote a ballot-style list of preferred candidates and initiatives and that go out in virtually every election: It is hard for a candidate who has serious opposition to pass up a chance to buy a spot on them.

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As Jerry Haleva, an aide to state Sen. Bill Campbell, a candidate for the GOP nomination for state controller, frankly conceded last week, “Campbell’s on slates on both sides of 51. . . . The reality is that Bill Campbell’s on any mailer with George Deukmejian’s name on it that we can get on.”

There is no way Campbell could afford to independently sponsor a mailing to 2 million households. The Campbell campaign would not say how much they had been asked to contribute to finance the mailing, but one of his primary opponents, Assemblyman Don Sebastiani, said he had been asked to pay $25,000 for a spot on the mailer. When he turned it down, the slate organizers went to Campbell.

Slate mailers may give the impression of ideological consistency, that they are sent out by people who really believe in the candidates and causes espoused. This is often not the case. Many slate mailers are simply business ventures. Positions on the mailers go to the highest bidders.

For instance, Michael Mercier and Jim Corey, the men who organized the slate mailing to the 2 million Republican households, reportedly first offered to sell the pro-51 campaigners space on the card for $110,000. If that solicitation had been accepted, Deukmejian--whose name was placed on the slate for free because it lent credibility--probably would have been happy because he supports Proposition 51.

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But the pro-51 firm of Woodward & McDowell declined, and the slate organizers promptly went to the Berman-D’Agostino firm, coordinators of the campaign against the proposition, and this time their deal was accepted. In fact, the anti-51 campaigners were reportedly willing to pay $180,000 for such great access to Republican voters, and the mailing was expanded by nearly double. (In its final form, the largely Republican slate also endorsed several liberal judges who had paid to be included.)

Causes Not Their Own

The episode points up how candidates can easily become enmeshed in slates with causes that are not their own. (The Mercier-Corey mailer did contain a disclaimer saying the candidates endorsed were not necessarily backing the initiative positions recommended, but it was in tiny print and vaguely worded.)

Candidates often cannot resist becoming involved in the big money advertising campaigns waged over controversial initiatives. In the case of Proposition 51, for instance, more than $10 million will be spent by the two sides. It was almost inevitable that some of the candidates would try, in some way, to latch on to the campaign mailings and commercials.

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In the 51 campaign this phenomenon is most evident in the race for the Democratic nomination for state controller. One contender, Assemblyman Gray Davis, is closely aligned with Berman-D’Agostino and thereby is assured of being on every Democratic slate mailing they participate in that is opposed to the initiative, even if he is expected to make some financial contribution. A second candidate, Assemblyman Alister McAlister, free of any charge, has appeared on a television commercial produced by Woodward-McDowell as a spokesman for the pro-51 forces, thus giving himself massive television exposure as his own election approaches.

Benefiting From Campaign

A few weeks ago, it appeared that state Sen. John Garamendi, the third candidate in this race, would not be getting any assistance in advertising his own campaign from either the pro or con sides of the 51 campaign.

But fortunately for Garamendi, his campaign manager, Clint Reilly, was also managing the reelection campaign of the state superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig. Honig was a co-chairman of the campaign for 51 and was going to appear, free to himself, on a radio spot for the campaign.

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Reilly managed to arrange for Garamendi to benefit from all the money put into the initiative too. He said he had persuaded Woodward-McDowell to buy one quarter of a four-page Garamendi brochure that went out last week to a million Democratic households. Without the pro-51 contribution, Garamendi would not have been able to afford such an extensive mailing.

Controversial Terminology

Another beneficiary of the Proposition 51 campaign has been Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who appeared on television commercials produced by Berman-D’Agostino that have been seen for weeks throughout the state.

Van de Kamp’s commercials have landed him into controversy over some of the terminology he has employed, and he really doesn’t need the exposure this year, having only nominal opposition for reelection. But it is widely believed that Van de Kamp intends to run for governor in 1990, and Michael Berman of Berman-D’Agostino reportedly remarked recently that the anti-51 commercials he had done were the opening shot in that campaign.

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