Senate Approves Bill Co-Authored by Sen. Bates to Help Level Campaign Playing Field

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate yesterday unanimously approved Senate Bill 45 (Mendoza) that would prohibit taxpayer-paid mass mailings from being sent to constituents within 60 days preceding an election by or on behalf of a state or local candidate running for office. The bill is co-authored by Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates and will head to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his consideration.

“To help ensure a level playing field in local campaigns, it’s important to make clear that elected officials cannot send out taxpayer-funded mailers so close to an election,” said Bates. “Senate Bill 45 is a bipartisan measure that will simply update the law to help rebuild public trust and conserve public resources.”

SB 45 codifies a California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulation and advice (both formal and informal) regarding mass mailings sent at public expense and prohibits these mass mailings from being sent within the 60 days preceding an election by or on behalf of a state or local candidate whose name will appear on the ballot.

With limited exceptions, such as press releases and responses to unsolicited requests, both the state Senate and Assembly voluntarily prohibit its members from sending mass mail that is permissible under the FPPC regulation during the 90 day (Senate) or 60 day (Assembly) period prior to an election in which the member’s name appears on that election ballot. SB 45 would impose a similar blackout period that would apply to all state and local government agencies.

In one case last year, a local elected official sent nearly 500,000 mailers promoting community events that included the official’s name and exceeded the communications sent by other colleagues. Current law is vague as to whether such a mailing close to the election is legal. SB 45 would clarify the law to prevent a similar situation from happening again.