A mailer that reads like a campaign brochure in support of Measure B -- the one-eighth-cent sales tax that benefits local libraries -- began landing in mailboxes this week, courtesy of Fresno County.
It includes a "Dear Neighbor" letter from county Librarian Laurel Prysiazny and a question-and-answer section about libraries in general and Measure B in particular.
Given that Measure B is up for renewal in two weeks, the mailer caught the eye of some people in the community. Their question: Is the county paying for the mailer? Can the county use taxpayer money on such mailers?
The answer to both questions is yes, says campaign ethics expert Bob Stern.
"As long as it doesn't say 'vote for' a particular ballot initiative" he added.
A key part of the California Government Code reads: "An officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency may not expend or authorize the expenditure of any of the funds of the local agency to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters."
That means such mailers can even be slanted -- and most are -- as long as they are educational in nature.
One of the lines in the mailer says Measure B "simply extends the existing, voter-approved 1/8-cent sales tax for local libraries without extending the tax rate, and will continue to cost the average person about $12 a year."
While that may sound like advocacy to some, it is simply educational to Prysiazny.
Measure B has been on the books for 14 years, but periodically needs to be reauthorized.
It accounts for about half of the county library system's total budget, paying for things like books, librarians and library buildings.
But when library officials did a survey in March, Prysiazny said, 30% of those who participated didn't know much about how Fresno County's library system was funded.
"We knew we needed to do some education," she said. "We are obligated to let people know what this money does for them."
Prysiazny freely admits the mailer was paid for with library funds. She said she didn't know the exact amount.
But she also said library officials were careful to not advocate in the mailer -- or in any other communication with county residents.
The mailer's final layout, she said, was reviewed by the county counsel's office.
"From my perspective," she says, "we know it's factual."
-- John Ellis
Poochigian bankrolls Measure O effort
Fresno County's least-known ballot measure in the Nov. 6 election finally got an ounce of publicity, thanks to county Supervisor Debbie Poochigian.
Poochigian bankrolled a slew of mailers to county households this week, urging voters to support Measure O -- which would make it easier for the county to outsource government services.
The longtime Republican, who has been a strong advocate for privatizing county jobs as a way to reduce government spending, led efforts to get Measure O on the ballot.
Before the mailers, however, little had been said or done about the initiative since it was drafted last summer.
"If you support something and you believe in something, you got to put your money where your mouth is," Poochigian said Friday.
Financial reports due this week show that the supervisor's campaign, through Oct. 20, spent $3,635 on the "Yes on O" mailers.
That's a drop in the bucket for Poochigian, whose campaign has more than $500,000 in the bank, according to county records.
Labor groups have quietly opposed Poochigian's initiative. But union officials said this week they, too, planned to spend money on the issue: $8,000 on mailers that both go against Measure O and support Measure B, the county's library tax extension.
The local chapter of Service Employees International Union maintains that privatization decisions should not be easy for county leaders to make, arguing that politics in the near term can result in bad policy in the long run.
-- Kurtis Alexander
Whelan gets a push in race to unseat Costa
It's pretty clear that Fresno Republican Brian Whelan wanted to reach the top level in the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" program.
The designation would have given his campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in the 16th Congressional District some legitimacy -- and, likely, money. With just 12 days until the election, it looks like Whelan will fall a rung short on the Young Guns ladder.
But it appears one organization is trying to help Whelan.
The Central Valley Independent PAC was formed Oct. 9 and on Wednesday reported to the Federal Election Commission that it had raised $130,000.
But there must be more cash where that came from because the Central Valley Independent PAC has bought around $200,000 in television time on KFSN (Channel 30.1), KSEE (Channel 24.1) and KGPE (Channel 47.1).
It has formed a Twitter account as well as a website -- centralvalleyindependentpac.com -- but as with so many other independent expenditure groups these days, exact details on the group are hard to find.
The only contributor, according to the Federal Election Commission's website, is Double B Land Company, which lists an address of 5200 N. Palm Ave., Suite 310, in Fresno.
That is also the address of West Hills Financial LLC, which lists Brad Gleason as its president.
Gleason, who also looks to be a farmer and has ties to the Valley's pistachio industry, is listed on Whelan's campaign website as an endorser.
He also has donated close to $5,000 to Whelan's campaign, as has Gregorio Jacobo, who is listed as executive ranch manager for West Hills Farm Services, which shares a website with West Hills Financial.
The PAC's treasurer is listed as Ross Allen, and has a Coalinga post-office box. The P.O. Box number is also tied to Turk Station LLC, which has Allen listed on the Secretary of State's website as its agent for service of process.
Turk Station is listed as a hunting lodge and ranch that also offers wild boar hunts, though it is unclear if the Coalinga-area business is still open.
Neither Gleason nor Allen could be reached for comment.
Congressional campaigns aren't supposed to coordinate their activities with any independent groups such as the Central Valley Independent PAC, but there is no doubt the question for Whelan is: Can the television ads and website help? And, with thousands of people already having voted, are the ads hitting the airwaves too late?
-- John Ellis