Over a month after the Long Beach Post wrote about a series of unsavory and misleading campaign tactics used by Long Beach City Council candidates leading into the April 12 municipal primary, it’s clear things have grown significantly more contentious between the remaining two city council candidates.
Gray’s campaign, after a few misleading flyers last month, has gone on the attack against Pearce, through a series of press releases and mailed flyers questioning the nature of her employment status, lobbying ethics and political party affiliation.
Meanwhile, Pearce’s campaign has questioned Gray’s adherence to the Fair Campaign Practice Pledge, citing incidents of Gray’s campaign leaving misleading voicemails referring to himself as the only Democrat running for city council.
“Jeannine Pearce, 2nd District candidate for Long Beach City Council, along with the California Democratic Party are speaking out to demand that her opponent, Eric Gray, uphold the pledge he signed in January to follow fair campaign practices in his bid for city council,” stated Pearce’s campaign in a release issued this week. “As Election Day nears, Gray’s campaign has become increasingly deceptive. In the past week alone, the Gray campaign lied to voters over the phone, email, and through campaign mailers.”
The most recent tactic to enter the public sphere is Gray’s mailers, with visuals created by the campaign, alluding to Pearce’s registration with the American Independent Party, an extreme right-wing political organization with which many people in California have registered by mistake.
“There is only one lifelong Democrat in the council,” reads the flyer, in all caps, featuring an enlarged, grainy image of Pearce. “It is not Jeannine Pearce.”
The flyer shows Pearce registered for the American Independent Party, before registering as a Democrat in 2011.
Pearce acknowledged that she registered for the party by mistake, which a Los Angeles Times article from April shows 73 percent of the party’s members likely did as well, due to the party’s deceptive name.
The American Independent Party opposes abortion rights and same sex marriage, and advocates for a wall to be built between the U.S. and Mexico. Celebrities such as Demi Moore, Sugar Ray Leonard and Emma Stone, who are believed to have democratic leanings, were among people who likely thought they were declaring no party affiliation when registering with the party.
“My track record speaks for itself. Since my first activism in the 5th grade to today I have dedicated my life to the values of the Democratic Party,” Pearce told the Post. “I, like 73% of those registered as Independents, never identified with the American Independent party. I registered as such with hopes to be independent.”
Pearce said after working with politicians with whom she identified, such as Barack Obama and Governor Jerry Brown, she made the official switch to the Democratic Party.
“I registered as Democrat after meeting Long Beach leaders that I felt represented the values and people with dignity,” she wrote. “This attempt by Eric himself to mislead voters is disheartening.”
In correspondence with the Post, Gray acknowledged that other well-known politicians, such as Mayor Robert Garcia, once held a different party affiliation. Yet, he took the time to distinguish the two campaigns, emphasizing Garcia’s transparency in discussing his previous affiliation, noting Pearce had yet to reveal her prior voter registration in this campaign.
Gray’s other releases, sent by email, question the nature of Pearce’s “sabbatical” from her employer and potential involvement in a fine levied in February against Pearce’s employer, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) for lobbying reporting violations this past year.
According to both Pearce and LAANE Deputy Director James Elmendorf, every long-term employee at LAANE is eligible for a three-month sabbatical, and Pearce has taken just that.
Pearce said her paid time off will run out, and she will start using unpaid time off in the week or two leading up to the June 7 General Municipal Election.
“As an employee of a lobbying organization, any paid leave Jeannine took to run for public office deserves strict scrutiny,” Gray told the Post. “I raised this question because I believe voters have the right to know if she was essentially being paid to run for office. If she says she was eligible for paid leave under an internal policy offered to all employees at LAANE, then I am glad she was able to clarify that for the voters. They deserve transparency in elections.”
In response to the LAANE fine levied by the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, Elmendorf said Pearce was not involved with what he and the Los Angeles Times described as a “clerical error,” in which the salaries of lobbyists were not included on lobbying reporting forms totalling the amount spent on lobbying between 2011 and 2014. The error resulted in $108,000 in unreported lobbying expenses, and a $47,000 fine.
Pearce said she worked on one Los Angeles campaign during that time period, and was not in a management role, nor was she a registered lobbyist in the City of Los Angeles (she was a campaign organizer at the time, not director).
"It should be noted, that in LA you must register as a lobbyist if you do a certain amount of lobbying (I do not know the threshold because I do no do LA Lobbying)," Pearce told the Post. "I am not a registered lobbyist."
Pearce said she was working on coalition building and reaching out to stakeholders, not talking to elected officials. Elmendorf said she was not involved with the reporting error in any way, and the error was committed on behalf of the legal arm of the organization.
An investigation by the Post revealed that the lobbyist reporting paperwork completed for the Ethics Commission, documented online, does not reference Pearce in any capacity.
“I am asking Jeannine to clarify if she was doing any work to support the lobbying efforts in Los Angeles that were subsequently penalized — whether it was research, clerical work, whatever — because voters in Long Beach's 2nd District have the right to know,” said Gray. “I have yet to see her address her employer's ethics violations directly. I have only seen her call her employer ‘the most ethical organization I Know.’"
In return, Pearce’s campaign has maintained that Gray’s campaign staff is leaving misleading voicemails that state he is the only Democrat running for city council. Gray confirmed such messages have been left on community voicemail machines, but said he meant for volunteers to emphasize he is the only “lifelong Democrat,” as stated on his campaign mailers.
“Unfortunately, one of our volunteers misspoke, claiming that I was the only Democrat in the race, and a Pearce supporter decided to make the recording public,” said Gray. “I am the only lifelong Democrat in the race, and we have explained this distinction to our volunteer, who recently posted an apology on Facebook.”
Gray said the mistake spurred the campaign to change their training of volunteers in the campaign process, and that they provide volunteers with a script that “clearly states that I am the only lifelong Democrat in the race, not the only Democrat in the race.”
Pearce’s campaign pointed this being a violation of the Fair Campaigns Practices pledge, which both candidates signed and states: “I SHALL NOT USE OR PERMIT the use of character defamation, whisper campaigns, libel or slander, scrupulous attacks on any candidate or his or her personal life or family.”
In response, Chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party, Eric Bauman, reiterated that Pearce received the official Democratic Party endorsement.
“Jeannine Pearce is the only candidate for Long Beach’s 2nd District who has earned the endorsement of the Democratic Party,” wrote Bauman in a statement. “The LA County Democratic Party condemns the misleading claims by candidate Eric Gray’s campaign, that imply that he is the only Democrat in the race. Pearce is a strong Democrat with a proven track record of standing up for our shared Democratic values. She's running with integrity and is the best candidate to serve the district.”
As the June 7 General Election approaches, Long Beach residents have the opportunity to cast their ballot for the politician who most represents their interests and preferred codes of conduct. In the remaining days of campaign season, the jury is out on who that will be.