An ad for a local candidate running for San Luis Obispo County’s district attorney post caught my attention recently because I thought the Atascadero City Council had overstepped its bounds. I still do, but it appears it was more a poor choice of words instead of intentional wrongdoing.
In the Wednesday, May 7, edition of the Atascadero News, there was a photo of the City Council standing on the steps of city hall with Dan Dow, one of three candidates for the DA’s post.
What caught my instant ire was the text of the ad, which stated, “Please join us as we join the Atascadero City Council and the Atascadero Police Association in supporting Dan Dow for district attorney.” Wait a minute, I thought, the City Council cannot endorse any candidate or ballot measure. They can’t use my tax dollars to promote their favorite person for any job.
When I mentioned my concern to Mayor Tom O’Malley, he said they (the council) can endorse anyone they want as individuals. And he is right.
But the ad made it appear that the council had gone too far: “We join the Atascadero City Council in supporting Dan Dow for district attorney.”
I checked with Marcia McClure Torgerson, city clerk and assistant to the city manager, to see if the council had indeed voted to endorse Dow. She said the council did not. “They probably each individually endorsed him,” Torgerson explained in a followup email.
It is obvious that our council is behind Dan Dow for the county office of district attorney. It would be more appropriate if each council member and our mayor did individual ads for their favorite candidate. To do so as a group is inappropriate and downright illegal.
Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said that in hindsight the wording probably should have been different.
The ad notes that it was paid for by former councilman Ray Johnson, Duane Seaberg, George Trigueiro and Dan Woehl. Ads for a candidate but not financed by him should carry a disclaimer that reads more like this, “Paid for by the XYZ State Party Committee and authorized by the So-and-so for Congress Committee,” based on information from the Federal Election Commission.
I think political ads also should be labeled with the words, “Paid Political Ad.”
But most important, our City Council as a single body should not endorse candidates or causes of any kind.