The Stanislaus Council of Governments (STANCOG), a taxpayer funded organization, has sent out three campaign flyers in favor of Measure L, a county-wide ballot proposal that will increase the sales tax by one-half percent for 25 years.
While use of taxpayer funds in a campaign is illegal, the council thinks it’s getting around the law by portraying the flyers as “fact sheets.” In reality, they include misleading statements that belong in the Propaganda Museum in San Rafael.
Complaints about the misuse of taxpayer money for a political campaign may be directed to the Fair Political Practices Commission Enforcement Division in Sacramento. However, by the time the complaint is acted on, the sales tax increase may have already passed. One would not expect a court to overturn the vote of the people based on false campaign literature as it has never done so in the past.
Examples of Misleading Statements
The third flyer promises expenditures of specific amounts for various projects and services using anticipated revenue. Next to each expenditure, an asterisk refers to a disclaimer in small print at the bottom of the page that states that the amounts shown are subject to revision based on actual tax revenue received.
The asterisk seems honest enough until one realizes that all of the different projects and services promised in all three flyers greatly exceed the most optimistic revenue expectations. Something was promised to everyone in the county. What is most likely is that only special interests will actually receive what they expect. Everyone else will receive less.
To make promises that may not be delivered does not constitute a fact sheet—it is propaganda, a campaign flyer.
A major unlikely claim is that there will be a “1% Administrative Expense Cap.” The reality is that the administrative expense depends on the nature of the project. While the expense can be as low as 1% for pothole repair projects, road expansion projects such as expressways often have administrative overhead as high as 25%!
Citizen Oversight and Developer Fees
The campaign flyer promises that misuse of funds will not occur because citizens will monitor spending. The implication is that politicians cannot be trusted to properly use the funds. The politicians are the ones who will be appointing the citizens to do the oversight. The oversight committee can easily be packed with representatives shilling for special interests. Such representatives will not be elected and not accountable to the voters.
The flyer promises that sales tax revenue will not be used to subsidize new development. Existing tax revenues subsidize new urban development now. How can that promise possibly be true? Developers currently receive so many subsidies that no one knows how large they are or even how to define “subsidy.”
Each City Will Certify Proper Use of Its Share of Funds
Every city has to follow the law. The statement in the flyer is one that would only appear in a propaganda piece as everyone is already aware of this fact.
Appearance of the “Fact Sheet”
When the government sends out a letter for information purposes, the letter is typically printed in black and white, in paragraph form with an address label and a “Dear Sir” or “Ms.” greeting. The campaign flyer created at taxpayer expense is printed on expensive glossy paper in multiple colors with numerous pictures and relatively little purely informative text.
If the campaign for Measure L is providing misleading information, one has to wonder whether the use of the tax money will conform to the promises made. If taxpayer money is used to sell a tax increase, is this good public policy that should be supported by voters? If voters pass measure L, the same tactics will likely be used for future proposals. Government constantly seeks more revenue and will not live within its means unless forced to.