Last weekend, a campaign mailer for Glendale City Council candidate Greg Astorian was sent out to at least 1,000 households that included the city’s logo, along with the logos of several organizations with which the current city planning commissioner has been involved.
Within days, Glendale’s city attorney’s office slapped Astorian with a cease-and-desist notice asking him to refrain from using the city’s logo in future campaign materials. City Atty. Mike Garcia also asked Astorian to remove the logo from his website.
“One of the reasons we reached out to [Astorian’s campaign] was that we wanted to make it clear that there’s no city involvement in any campaign,” Garcia said.
Use of the city’s logo likely violates a state law that prevents the use of government resources for public campaigning, as well as amounting to trademark infringement, Garcia said.
For the same reasons, the logo for the city-connected Verdugo Workforce Development Board, which was printed in the mailer, was also part of the cease-and-desist notice.
The logos presented were “to pay homage to [the organizations], to show how much [Astorian] values them in the community — and how much they value him,” said Tai Sunnanon, who is with Astorian’s campaign. The campaign wanted to pay homage without the mailer being “all words,” he said.
Astorian announced his candidacy in early October. He is vying for one of three open City Council seats in an election set for March of next year.
All of the logos printed in the mailer — which included the Salvation Army, Glendale Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, California Assn. of Realtors, and the Glendale Fire Assn. — have since been removed from Astorian’s site.
“We removed them because the bigger narrative is the platform and the ideas that we’re putting forward,” said Astorian, who has been an appointed planning commissioner for seven years.
“The most important thing is what’s next to the logos,” he added.
In the mailer, all of the logos were printed under the heading, “Greg Astorian’s Community Leadership.” Underneath the logos are the number of years Astorian has been involved with each nonprofit, business association or other organization.
Before seeing the mailer, Judee Kendall, chief executive of the Glendale Business of Commerce, said she worried it could appear to be an endorsement. Once she saw it, she said her fears dissipated.
“The way it was presented, I’m not concerned about it,” Kendall said.
She said she spoke with Astorian to let him know that members in good standing — which he is — need to ask for permission to use the logo.
Kelly Berggren, head of the Glendale and Burbank Salvation Army corps, also said he was comfortable with the nonprofit’s logo usage. Astorian is on the local Salvation Army’s advisory board.
Representatives for a local Kiwanis chapter and the California Assn. of Realtors both said they did not immediately know their organization’s logo-usage policy.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said it seemed like a clear “no-no” under state law.
“Is it money laundering? Absolutely not. Is it someone fleecing the government? No. But it is a campaign misstep? Absolutely,” said Levinson, whose focus is the law of the political process, including election law.
In 2005, it came to light that Glendale City Clerk candidate Paulette Mardikian had used the city seal on her campaign materials. Glendale’s municipal code states that the city seal can’t be used for anything other than city purposes.
At the time, she faced some backlash from residents, but remained in the race.
There’s a difference between using the city seal and the logo, Sunnanon said.
“That feels really semantic to me,” Levinson said of the distinction between the seal and the logo.
Garcia said he could not personally recall an instance where the city logo had been used for any candidate’s campaign materials. However, he said local organizations do sometimes print it, likely not realizing that they’re violating its trademark. In those instances, the city attorney’s office similarly sends cease-and-desist notices, he said.
About 1,100 of Astorian’s mailers were sent out, Sunnanon said. They went out in batches, both in English and Armenian, over the course of three days, he said.
Garcia said he had heard several different estimates of the number of mailers sent out.
“Once they’re out there, we can’t do anything about that,” Garcia said.