The California Chamber of Commerce’s new "issue" ad attacking Democratic gubernatorial
Brown’s record on spending and taxes has sparked ethics
complaints from at least two groups who say the 30-second spot runs
afoul of the state’s election laws.
The first complaint, filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission by Consumer Watchdog,
claims that the "issue advocacy ad" constitutes "express advocacy
against a candidate for office" and should be subject to independent
expenditure disclosure rules, including identifying the donors behind
the television buy.
"The campaign advertisement has no other purpose than to undercut the
public standing of a gubernatorial candidate, and therefore is express
advocacy against a candidate," Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court wrote in a letter to the Fair
Commission. "The claims in the advertising do not relate
at all to Jerry Brown’s current duties in the Attorney General’s
But whether the ad, which does not mention Brown’s candidacy or
explicitly direct viewers to vote for or against the Democrat, counts as
"issue advocacy" or an independent expenditure depends on how you
define the term "unambiguously urges."
According to the Political Reform Act, an independent expenditure is:
"Communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a
candidate or the qualification, passage or defeat of a clearly
identified measure, or taken as a whole and in context, unambiguously
urges a particular result in an election but which is not made to or at
the behest of the affected candidate or committee."
Court writes that the ad’s "timing, wording and context can lead to
no other conclusion than the advertisement is made to influence the
election of a candidate for the governor’s office, Jerry Brown."
A CalChamber spokesperson countered yesterday that the ad is part of a larger
issue campaign and does not direct voters to support or oppose a
The complaint also alleges that because GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg
Whitman’s campaign chairman Pete
Wilson sits on the chamber’s board of directors, any
independent expenditure ad opposing Brown would constitute illegal
coordination between the campaign and the chamber.
That claim is echoed in a complaint set to be filed by the California Democratic Party, which accuses
Wilson of "colluding" with the chamber to produce the ad. The complaint
claims the estimated $1 million ad buy would then violate in-kind
In an interview with The Bee this afternoon, Wilson said the chamber
did not consult with him about the specific ad attacking Brown nor the
idea of running a general issue advocacy campaign. Without having seen
the ad, however, he said, "My guess is this is issue advocacy that is
"I was not consulted, and if there was something addressed to the
board as a whole I was not aware of it, but it may have very well
happened," Wilson said.
Chamber spokeswoman Denise Davis said yesterday that
the board had approved funding for issues advocacy ads in general, but
could not comment on whether members had Ok’ed this particular ad. She
was not immediately available today for comment.
UC President Mark Yudoff, a board member, said today
he had not seen or approved the ad before it was released.
"As the leader of a public university, I am nonpartisan. I am looking
into the circumstances surrounding the advertisement," Yudoff posted on
his Facebook page.
Bee colleague Jack Chang contributed to this report.