Election Spam, 2018 ed., Volume 1

Posted Mon 28 May 2018 17:30 under category politics

Hello intermittent readers, and welcome to the latest edition in my series on electoral advertising. As you may or may not know, June 5th is California's primary election for 2018. We've got a contentious list of ballot measures, as well as a variety of local, state, and federal offices up for election, which means it's time for a bunch of special interest groups to spend money sending my family high-gloss advertising pamphlets.

election spam

On the ballot this time around:

  • Governor
  • Lt. Governor
  • Secretary of State
  • State Controller
  • Treasurer
  • Attorney General
  • Insurance Commissioner
  • Board of Equalization
  • US Senator
  • US Representative
  • State Assembly
  • Superior Court Judge (x4)
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Mayor
  • 5 State Measures
  • 1 Regional Measure
  • 9 City Measures

After the fold, let's see who's spending their advertising budget in densest San Francisco.

Campaign Mail

Mayor

Let's start with the mayoral race, since it's definitely the most contentious; additionally, it's an actual election (as opposed to a mere primary). The leaders in the San Francisco mayoral race are London Breed, Jane Kim, and Mark Leno (in some approximation of that order); there are another five candidates bringing up the rear (including a practitioner of "Astrology Massage" and a candidate who wants to ban all marijuana). Only the top three sent out any spam this election.

Candidate # In Favor # Opposed
London Breed 5 1
Jane Kim 5 -
Mark Leno 4 -

Remarkably uniform this time around. The only obviously negative mail was a single mailer which served both as an advertisement for Mark Leno and an accusation that London Breed was elected by "Billionaire Ron Conway and his wealthy developer and real estate speculator friends". I can't imagine that any of these candidates is really able to sell themselves as a member of the proletariat (except for extreme long-shot Amy Farah Weiss), so I can't imagine this line of attack being very successful2.

I suppose the other negative worth mentioning would be the Jane Kim volunteer who was going around taking down doorknob flyers for London Breed and replacing them with flyers for Jane Kim. Classy.

A somewhat more disturbing trend is that many of the "voter slates" claiming to be from various city Democratic parties have endorsed both Leno and Kim and recommend that voters put them in the "1-2" slots. This unethical collaboration novel strategy has even gotten some national attention; i.e., the Atlantic article earlier this month entitled Rival Candidates Try an Unusual Election Message: Vote for Both of Us

Ballot Props

Please note that I followed my usual strategy; if a slate included advertisements for a given measure, I counted it towards each measure it listed.

Measure # In Favor # Opposed
Measure A 4 -
Measure B 2 -
Measure C3 6 2
Measure D3 3 2
Measure E 8 11
Measure F 4 -
Measure G 4 -
Measure H - 4
Measure I - 2

Some interesting notes:

  • Measure B is also known as the "Breed Measure" and is in some confusing a way a reprisal against London Breed. I'm really torn on this—on the one hand, the "yes" argument is written by Aaron Peskin (my supervisor, whose policies I can't stand) and I'm told by people vaguely involved in city government that the only reason this exists is because of a personal beef between Peskin and Breed. On the other hand, the "no" argument in the book was written by noted crazy person Dr. Terence Faulkner, J.D., and it's usually a bad sign when you're voting with Terence.
  • Measure E is our latest mega-contentious sin ban bill, this time banning flavored tobacco. I don't really know how I feel about it; I kind of get the argument that it's a product targeted exclusively at children, but on the other hand the save the children argument is usually a poor rhetorical tactic, and banning specific flavors of tobacco seems stupid; either ban tobacco or don't. This is the only Measure that I received any phone calls for, and I have to say that I started laughing when the person on the other end of the line had to read me that their call was paid for by the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (jeez it must be a shitty job to read that message all day every day).
  • Measure H is some stupid infighting between the policemen's union and the police commissioner and has the novel status of being opposed both by police leadership and by most local communities of color. Supposedly part of the motivation is also to enshrine tasers in the charter and make it harder to take them away if there are safety issues. Don't vote for it.

Other Ballot Items

Surprisingly (to me) this year, we've only received a smattering of mail about any non-San Francisco issues: a single endorsement for State Superintendent, a slate from the California Democratic Party, and a slate from the incredibly-confusingly-named Voter Guide Slate Cards1. I know that a lot of the non-San Francisco options are boring (yes, it's going to be Gavin Newsom versus Some Boring Republican for governor; yes, Pelosi and Feinstein are going to get re-elected), but I'm still surprised at the low mail volume.

There are some pretty cool candidates in some of these elections (e.g., Shahid Buttar is running Nancy Pelosi's seat), but I guess they must not think it's worth the money to send out mail. Or phone calls. Or have billboards.

The only state candidate who we got a flyer for is Tony Thurmond for State Superintendent of Public Education4.

Measure # In Favor # Opposed
Proposition 68 1 -
Proposition 69 2 -
Proposition 70 - 2
Proposition 71 2 -
Proposition 72 2 -

I have no notes on these other than that the "think of the children" argument in the voter guide against Proposition 71 is particularly egregious.

Last up, we had two fliers urging us to re-elect the entire current slate of Superior Court judges. This is the only year in my memory where the judicial elections are at all exciting; there are four incumbents and four former public defenders who are challenging them. The judicial election process is entirely bizarre, but I guess it's good that there are actually challengers for the first time ever this round. Even the Bar Association is getting involved.

Wrapping Up

All told, I've gotten fifty glossy pieces of mail so far (with about a week to go until the election). This is already more than I had in 2016 for a primary in a Presidential year. Maybe there'll even be a decent turnout for this election? I guess we'll find out.

Go vote!


  1. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out who is behind Voter Guide Slate Cards and couldn't come up with much. It is closely associated with Jerry Seedborg, who was and campaign manager for Gary Hart in 1988 and campaign manager for Howard Berman in 2012 (notable because both seem to have been full of ethical oversights). If anyone can figure out who's paying him to put out this sketchy-looking slate, let me know—I bet they're going to be subject to some exciting ethics reprisals. 

  2. Note that this same attack was used as rationale when Mark Farrell was appointed as interim mayor, replacing London Breed. Also note that Mark Farrell is personally a mega-millionaire venture capitalist. 

  3. Note that Measures C and D are designed to conflict with each other; only one can pass 

  4. My wife has worked with him in some vague way in his current role as an Assembly member and endorses him, too. 


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