By Michele Clock
, John Marelius
Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 12:57 a.m.
About 50,500 taxpayer-funded mailers were sent out by Assemblyman Joel Anderson regarding a bill he introduced.
Assemblyman Joel Anderson has sent a taxpayer-financed, campaign-style mailer touting legislation aimed at a potential political rival.
The piece is entirely devoted to Anderson’s bill, which would prohibit an elected county official from “making a gift of public funds or property to any person.”
Anderson, a La Mesa Republican, introduced the bill in May, weeks after a controversy flared over Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone allowing his sister Lori Stone full-time use of a county-owned car. Lori Stone is a volunteer in her brother’s office and performs various county functions.
Anderson’s bill was referred to the Assembly Rules Committee in May; there has been no action on it since.
“Honest elected officials are tarnished by the bad actors that use their office to enrich their family members,” the Anderson mailer says. “Assembly Bill 1399 is a bipartisan ethics reform that closes a little-known loophole which allows local elected officials to gift public assets to family members.”
The mailer, which went out this month to constituents, also warns, “Local politicians are using public money as personal slush funds.”
Stone is running for the Republican nomination in the 36th state Senate District, which runs from southwestern Riverside County nearly to the U.S.-Mexico border and includes Anderson’s East San Diego County Assembly district. Anderson has designs on the Senate seat, as well.
“Maybe it’s not the most blatant use of an official mailer for campaign purposes, but it’s probably in the running for the top 10,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont Mc Kenna
“So to rouse voters about an alleged abuse of tax dollars, a politician uses tax money to print a slick, campaign-style brochure that advances his political interests,” Pitney added. “Mr. Anderson seems to lack self-awareness and a sense of irony.”
Shortly after he introduced AB 1399, Anderson made it clear it was inspired by Stone.
“People are offended” by Lori Stone’s use of a county car, Anderson told The Californian, the Riverside County edition of the North County Times, in June. He said his bill draws a “bright line” regarding the use of publicly owned assets.
Anderson has consistently refused to talk to The San Diego Union-Tribune since late September, when the newspaper began looking into a questionable pattern of campaign fund transactions that are now the focus of an investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Yesterday, he refused to discuss his bill with the Union-Tribune.
“The assemblyman will not be available,” Collin Mc Glashen
, Anderson’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail.
Jeff Stone, in an interview this week, called the bill “politically motivated” and a distraction from important issues facing the state.
“I personally believe that Mr. Anderson wanted to ruffle my feathers and intimidate me from getting into the Senate race and facing a brawler like himself,” Stone said. “I’m not one who is easily intimidated, and I defend my actions with a lot of sincerity.”
Stone said he vetted his sister’s volunteer service to the county and issuance of a county car with the Riverside County counsel before allowing either. Volunteers are allowed mileage reimbursement for county-related work, Stone said, and his staff determined that the county could save money by issuing her a car because of the number of miles she was driving. The car was to be used for county-related business only, Stone said.
“Everything was aboveboard,” Stone said. “Everything was legal.”
Stone’s sister now uses her own car and doesn’t seek mileage reimbursement because of the controversy, said Jonathan Buettner, Stone’s campaign manager.
Political ethicist Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said Anderson’s bill raises a worthy issue, but he questioned why it was so narrowly drafted to apply only to county elected officials.
“It’s probably directed at one particular person,” Stern said. “This newsletter is a campaign mailer.”
Stern also said he has no problem with Lori Stone’s use of a county car “if she’s driving on county business.”
Anderson’s office this month sent 50,540 copies of the mailer to households in the 77th Assembly District, according to records kept by the Assembly Rules Committee.
The mailers cost slightly more than $14,000 in printing and postage. The cost is taken out of the legislator’s office budget.
All taxpayer-paid mailings must be preapproved by the Rules Committee, but legislators are given fairly wide latitude.
Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, said the Anderson mailer passed muster under Assembly rules.
“It has to relate to a legislative purpose,” Waldie said. “Obviously, that one does because it refers to a specific piece of legislation.”
Staff writer Michael Gardner contributed to this report.