By Shirley L. Grindle
In every election cycle since 2000, Irvine’s voters have been subjected to Hometown Voter Guide’s skirting, if not downright violation, of state and local campaign laws. In the last few years two separate complaints have been filed alleging that the Hometown Voter Guide Slate Mailer Organization is being operated with Larry Agran’s direct involvement. It is my understanding that these allegations are currently being investigated by the local District Attorney.
The reason these complaints have been filed is because slate mailer organizations such as Hometown Voter Guide are required by state law to be operated completely independent of a candidate or elected official.
Since there are no limits on contributions made to a Slate Mailer Organization, Hometown Voter Guide is able to accept huge unlimited contributions that grossly exceed the Irvine contribution limits and use them to support or oppose Irvine candidates. Agran, who in the 70s and 80s was the epitome of “Mr. Clean” in his campaign practices, is now the expert on evading contribution limits. Under the auspices of HVG, Agran produces and distributes campaign literature touting his personally-chosen slate of candidates (Beth Krom, Sukhee Kang and Mary Ann Gaido) using large contributions solicited from special interests. Such a scheme places other candidates who do comply with Irvine’s contribution limits of $390, at a great disadvantage.
In addition, the slate mailers recently published by HVG include support for Measure M, a controversial ballot measure sponsored by OCTA that would extend a temporary ½-cent sales tax for an additional 30 years. On the HVG mailers, a fake Measure M symbol was used to delude the public into thinking that the official Measure M committee was supporting the Krom, Kang, Gaido ticket. The true Measure M ballot committee has since denied any connection with or knowledge of this pseudo-Msr. M committee.
In following the money, it was discovered that the $48,000 paid to HVG by the pseudo-Measure M people actually came from Planning 2020, Inc. out of Monterey, California, who in turn received their funds from Anne G. Earhart, a local Corona del Mar resident and from KB Home Coastal, Inc., an Irvine developer. By giving to Planning 2020 instead of directly to HVG, it was not readily apparent to the public or the media that Earhart and KB Home were the true source of the contributions. This is the same tactic used in the 2004 election by Agran when large contributions came in to HVG from developers and others purporting to support certain ballot measures, but were actually contributions used to promote Agran’s slate of candidates.
Slate mailer organizations are a very lucrative business – any individual can form one, can come up with a “good government” title, can pass themselves off as a credible political organization, and end up reaping tremendous profits. Too often, and particularly in the case of HVG, slate mailer organizations are simply vehicles used to skirt local contribution limits and to make it difficult to determine the true source of the donations. Voters should be mindful of these facts before relying on slate mailers for determining who or what they will vote for.
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