A collection of this season's direct mail campaign flyers. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
If you live in Long Beach and you don’t know what’s at stake during the municipal general election next Tuesday, you might want to check your mailbox—months ago. Since the beginning of the year, the two yet-to-be-decided issues in the city—who will serve the as the city’s Second District council member and a potential sales tax increase— have released a deluge of mailers, with each campaign investing tens of thousands of dollars toward their causes.
The Measure A and B campaign—a push by Mayor Robert Garcia and other elected officials to have voters approve a one-percent sales tax increase to help fund future infrastructure and public safety needs and establish a rainy day fund for that new revenue—takes the crown as the biggest spender. As of the latest filings with the city clerk’s office, the political action committee (PAC) supporting the measures listed over $208,000 in expenses for campaign literature and postage, delivery or messenger services.
"Direct mail is a proven method of communicating with voters—it assures that those most likely to vote are aware of the issues being decided on election day," said Mark Taylor, spokesman for the Measure A campaign. "However, that is only one way we are communicating with voters. We have been knocking on doors for months and talking to voters at their door, and making calls to voters as well. In addition, we are active on social media and have over 1,500 signs on lawns at homes across the city."
Taylor was confident voters would not be put off by the mailers.
The citywide effort supporting the measures trumps the expenses made by Eric Gray and Jeannine Pearce, the two remaining contenders for the soon-to-be-vacant Second District city council seat. However, the Gray and Pearce campaigns have both allocated hearty sums to ensure that residents in the Second District are no strangers to their faces or their platforms when they head to the polls June 7.
A group opposing the measures filed organization forms with the clerk’s office, but lists no contributions or expenditures. However, state law requires that monetary donations and expenditures made by a committee, or on behalf of it, must be disclosed periodically. The amount of anti-Measure A literature circulating throughout the city suggests that a disclosable amount of money has been spent, and should have been reported, yet at least two deadlines have passed as laid out by the Secretary of State’s guidelines with no disclosure of funds received or spent.
A review of expense forms filed with the city clerk’s office covering a time window from January 1 to May 21 showed that the Gray campaign has spent about $73,000 on mailers and postage, a large chunk of the over $104,000 the campaign has spent in total. In the same period, the Pearce campaign has spent about $43,000, less than half of the $109,000 her campaign’s documents list as to-date expenditures.
Gray said his campaign relied heavily on mailers because they've been proven effective and provide a tangible campaign presence that reaches voters directly.
"Mailers are proven to work," he said. "It actually leaves an impression on voters. [...] I also think it shows the strength of a campaign."
Regarding potential voter fatigue from the massive mailer schedule, Gray said he's experienced it, but he believes the campaign is justified by "trying to reach as many voters as possible" and its temporary nature.
"The campaign is ending June 7 and the mail will stop," he said.
The two campaigns have also been buoyed by independent expenditures made on their behalf by special interest groups. Pearce, who works as a campaign director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), has received large support from unions including the AFL-CIO which has spent over $67,000 on her behalf. The Long Beach Fire Fighters Association, which endorsed Pearce earlier this year, pitched in an additional $2,100.
Pearce called mail an "important tool" in ensuring residents understand the candidate and their platform, especially in the Second District, however, she was of the opinion relying solely on mailers does not make or break a campaign.
"The Second District is dense, with lots of voters in gated buildings, so for them mail is critical," she said. "Mail does not win campaigns though. Ensuring residents can meet the candidate, get to know them and talk to volunteers on the door is the most important part."
Those figures pale in comparison to the money offered up by a PAC supporting the Gray campaign. The “Friends of Long Beach” PAC supporting Gray show over $100,000 in mailers and postage expenses made on behalf of the Gray campaign. Gray also received and additional $5,400 from the Long Beach Police Officers Association which endorsed Gray earlier this year.
The glut of spending on mailers has left in the city, especially those in the Second District who have received an endless barrage of campaign literature, eagerly looking forward to June 8, the day after the election. But does the printed word have the kind of impact that warrants such high spending on snail mail in the digital age?
The United States Postal Service (USPS) Office of Inspector General estimated that 200 million pieces of political mail were sent during the 2012 election cycle, which amounted to about $400 million in revenue for the USPS. It attributed that to mail being a more cost-effective and targeted way to reach voters than more flashy and expensive avenues, like television and radio advertising.
“The boost in political mail volumes is a testament to the power of direct mail,” the USPS-OIG website states. “More dollars may be spent on television advertising, but the ability of mail to pinpoint a message to voters at a reasonable price is especially attractive to candidates and the national parties. However, using this method too much can backfire. Voters report that the barrage of mail prompts them to tune out the message altogether. They throw away or recycle the mail without even opening the piece.”
The increase in spending for coveted political offices is not something that is unique to Long Beach. The Federal Election Commission, which tracks campaign spending, shows that over $782 million has already been spent on the presidential primaries, and over the last two election cycles, a combined $3 billion was spent by all parties in races that were ultimately won by President Barack Obama.
Mark Cochrane, owner of Long Beach-based Seaside Printing, said printing requests typically peak during even year election cycles, but business this year is higher than normal. Cochrane estimated business was up 20 percent compared to the 2014 election season. He attributed the rise in business to the presidential election season, noting Seaside was paid to print 600,000 door hangers for the Bernie Sanders campaign and 500,000 brochures.
"We do very well in even years," said Cochrane.
Photo courtesy of Seaside Printing.
Cochrane noted the Measure A and B printing business was conducted by a company in Northern California, but their business has printed campaign materials for Jeannine Pearce and other Los Angeles County candidates.
Local elections have seen their spending expand, too, and it hasn’t been limited to council races. The race for the 47th District Congressional seat has raised over $500,000 between the Alan Lowenthal (incumbent) and Andrew Whallon (challenger) campaigns. The Pearce and Gray campaigns have raised and spent more money than the most recent council winners, in some cases doubling the amount spent by current council members Roberto Uranga, Rex Richardson and Dee Andrews.
Money isn’t everything though, as the Eighth District primary vote proved early last month. Council hopeful Wesley Turnbow, and a flurry of independent expenditures from a PAC headed by former councilman Gary DeLong failed to garner Turnbow the position, despite outspending the incumbent and eventual winner Al Austin. The DeLong PAC also backed Joen Garnica in the Second District race before she was eliminated after receiving a lower vote percentage than both Gray and Pearce.
With just one week left until polls officially open, the ballots will decide these races are submitted for tallying. As both the fate of the measures and Second District still very much up in the air, Long Beach residents should expect a final push of campaign literature to fill up their mailbox before voters are able to fill up the ballot box.
Keeley Smith contributed to this story.
[Editor's note: the original version of this story stated the 47th Congressional District race had exceeded $900,000 in fundraising, that was the figure raised during the 2014 race. This year's race has raised over $500,000 between the two candidates.]