PAC mailers do dirty work for candidates


"Special-Interest Lobbyist Richard Holober," "Who's Dumbing Down Our Kids?" and "Joe Nation."
"Special-Interest Lobbyist Richard Holober," "Who's Dumbing Down Our Kids?" and "Joe Nation."

Mailboxes across the Bay Area and throughout the state are being stuffed full of nasty mailers taking final sharp jabs at candidates up for office in Tuesday's primary election.

But most of the multicolored attack pieces aren't from candidates taking on their opponents by name. They are bought and paid for by special interests that use independent expenditure committees to do the dirty work for the candidates they support.

Voters don't like candidates who go negative, but they tend to remember those attacks, so campaigns try to find someone else to be the bad guy, said Dan Schnur, a GOP political analyst with a long history in California politics.

"In a presidential campaign, you get your running mate to take the low road, while in state races, you rely on the IE's," he said. "But it's the same idea, with the candidates trying to protect themselves from voter backlash."

While independent committees are required to spend their money without consulting a candidate or campaign, there's often an unspoken agreement that the official campaign puts out the feel-good ads while the independent committees go for the jugular.

As the election draws closer, the attacks grow nastier and complaints from candidates get louder.

Richard Holober, running in the Peninsula's 19th Assembly District, called a telephone news conference Thursday to slam JobsPAC, a political action committee financed by such corporate giants as Chevron, Philip Morris and Safeway, for sending out mailers painting him as a special-interest lobbyist.

"Look behind the veil and see who is funding these attacks," said Holober, a onetime lobbyist for labor groups. "These are the groups that don't want to see me in office."

Also on Thursday, the California Teachers Association and other education groups charged that a new independent expenditure television ad unfairly reports that Assemblyman Mark Leno, a candidate for a state Senate seat representing Marin County and parts of San Francisco and Sonoma County, joined with Republicans in 2004 to cut school spending.

"It's a cheap shot and teachers were shocked," said Larry Allen, a CTA board member. "We supported that cut as the best deal we could get and endorsed Leno. But the ad leads people in a certain way."

The ad gets across a point that the independent group, Protect Our Children, wanted to make, although it didn't mention that the independent expenditure group gets all its money from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which supports former San Rafael Assemblyman Joe Nation, one of Leno's opponents.

Nation also has been under attack from independent expenditure committees representing state employee unions, teachers unions and nurses, which have spent more than $450,000 on mailers attacking him as a tool for corporate interests.

While Nation has sent out his own mailer attacking Leno and incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden for what he said was their unwillingness to take a strong stand against plans for a Rohnert Park casino, it went out under his own name.

Attacks from independent expenditure committees "divorce candidates from any responsibility for what's said," Nation said. "They can just say they have no connection with the ad, shrug their shoulders and walk away."

Nation's stated distaste for the special-interest attack ads doesn't mean he won't take advantage of them. He said Thursday that Leno's vote to cut education spending "is not OK for our kids just because Sacramento power brokers give it their blessing."

In the East Bay, Berkeley Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who is running in the Democratic primary for the Ninth state Senate District, has been attacked by a group calling itself Education Leaders for High Standards for her voting record on education.

But the mailers don't mention that all the group's money comes from Indian tribes upset with Hancock's opposition to expansion of an Indian casino in San Pablo.

Attack ads are also flying in Oakland City Council races.

Incumbent Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who is facing two opponents for the West Oakland/Downtown District seat, has weathered mailers from a political action committee, affiliated with the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, that criticize Nadel as being soft on crime and for failing to tackle blight in her district.

Nadel, who is seeking a fourth term, has responded with a mailer citing her accomplishments on public safety and neighborhood beautification.

In North Oakland, Uhuru House, an Afrocentric social service group, has set its sights on Patrick McCullough, a neighborhood crime-prevention activist who is running against incumbent Councilwoman Jane Brunner.

The group paints McCullough, who is African American, as an anti-black vigilante for shooting a 15-year-old boy who in 2005 pointed a gun at him, an act that Oakland police described as self-defense, and for forcing drug dealers and gang members off his block.

Brunner said her campaign is not affiliated in any way with Uhuru House and a spokeswoman for the group said it has not endorsed her. McCullough said he is afraid the group's flyers might cost him support among younger voters and wants Brunner to denounce the Uhuru House attacks.

Despite such concerns, independent expenditure committees aren't going away. While the state has set tight limits on direct contributions to candidates and their campaigns, courts have consistently blocked any limits on money given to the independent committees, calling it a freedom of speech issue.

"IE's are a fact of political life," Nation said. "We just can hope they're factual."