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Potentially misleading ‘Cops Voter Guide’ arrives in residents’ mailboxes

A “Cops Voter Guide” mailed recently to Los Altos residents that lists the names of several candidates running in local elections has raised some concern due to the misleading perception that it was sent by law enforcement.

Mailer
Screenshot of Voter Guide
A “Cops Voter Guide” sent to California residents caused some to believe it came from law enforcement.

Five local candidates paid to have their names listed on the guide, three of whom are running for Los Altos City Council: incumbent Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng, Scott Spielman and Terri Couture. The other two are Julia Miller, who is running for re-election to the El Camino Healthcare District Board, and Grace Mah, a candidate for the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

The “Cops Voter Guide” touts itself as a “non-partisan public advocacy organization” and notes in fine print on the mailer that it does not represent any public safety personnel. Candidates paying for a spot in mailers is typical during election campaigns. But the design of the mailer, which contains generic police shields, a red and blue heading and the word “COPS” in all-caps, could be construed at first glance as an endorsement guide from a local police department.

A representative for the “Cops Voter Guide” did not respond to a request for comment. The organization is run by Kelly Moran, a political consultant based in Folsom who claims to have “20 years of experience working with public safety” but has not served in any capacity in law enforcement.

When reached by the Town Crier, Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea noted he had already been approached about the voter guide. He said he was not familiar with it initially but learned later that the organization was not connected to law enforcement.

“My advice would be to be wary of any campaign material that arrives in the mail,” he said. “Campaign material can be misleading, so it illustrates the importance of doing your own research. I would recommend starting individual research with information provided by the state of California and individual counties.”

Several sheriff’s departments in the state, including the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County, have posted on social media warning residents of the mailer. The Sheriffs’ Employee Benefit Association, which represents the sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County, wrote in a published statement that the mailer “claims to represent law enforcement in an attempt to cause pro-police voters to cast ballots contrary to the true stance of public safety professionals.”

In addition to including candidates’ names below the headline “vote to support public safety,” the guide includes recommendations on how to vote on several propositions on the state ballot. On its view on Proposition 16, which would restore affirmative action in California, the guide lists the word “NO” with an arrow pointing to the words “For Racial Equality.” While the intent appeared to be a claim that opposing the proposition would be supporting racial equality, the optics of the wording led to some confusion and viral social media posts.

Candidates clarify

All five candidates confirmed to the Town Crier that they paid to appear on the slate, but only had control over a brief statement underneath their names and were neither consulted on nor shown the proposition recommendations on the guide prior to it being sent.

Campaign finance discloures indicate that Couture, Lee Eng and Spielman each paid $743 to be on the slate. Miller paid $2,771. Mah’s payment was not disclosed.

Mah described the mailer as “paid advertising,” noting she has used them in the past.

A spokesperson for Miller called it a “campaign buy” that made sense because the mailer’s demographic skews older.

Lee Eng said she “sought the avenue that provided the greatest reach with minimal cost.” She has appeared on multiple slate cards and added she has to appeal to “all residents with different views.”

Spielman, in a phone call, said he understood how some could misconstrue the optics of the guide, and in a written statement noted that he used the mailer because he agreed with its pledge to prioritize public safety.

Couture, in a statement, noted her opposition to discrimination and support for local public safety departments.

“I thought this mailer was being sent to everyone that supports our departments,” Couture said. “The mailer is not proofed by me, and only the statement with my name has been approved by me. I had no idea any of the other information would be on this mailer, and I cannot comment on those statements.”

Explore comprehensive news coverage of local elections at losaltosonline.com/election-2020.

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