Healthcare mailings raise alarm in special election

In the final weeks of a crowded special election to replace former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a local attorney is charging one of the leading candidates with violating federal election laws.

Jason Bezis filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission Thursday, accusing the DeSaulnier campaign of direct-mail violations.  

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In the 13-page complaint, Bezis accuses Mark DeSaulnier of improperly using his state senate reelection campaign account to pay for two mass mailings promoting DeSaulnier’s positions on national healthcare issues, as well as his healthcare experience in the state senate. Those mailings, Bezis argues, are intended to support his special election campaign and therefore violate federal election laws preventing any state campaign funds from being used in a federal election.

The mass mailing is labeled “Your District Health Services Guide,” and contains contact information for a variety of hospitals and healthcare service centers in the state senate district. The first page of the booklet contains a written commentary from DeSaulnier about the importance of national healthcare reform and the election of President Obama.

Interspersed on every other page of the booklet are large-print descriptions of DeSaulnier’s state senate healthcare accomplishments. The last page of the mailing features a quote from State Sen. Tom Torlakson, who has endorsed DeSaulnier for Tauscher’s seat.

“Mark DeSaulnier is a natural leader, an independent thinker and a coalition builder who brings people together to get things done,” Torlakson says in the quote. “He has invaluable real world experience as a small businessman that consistently and positively informs his work for the people of his district.”

The second mass mailing titled “A Parents Guide To: A Safe and Healthy Family by Mark DeSaulnier” includes more substantive information about such things as fighting obesity, emergency preparedness and safety from strangers, although. Bezis claims, however, that it contains DeSaulnier’s name or likeness on 16 of the 20 pages.

Katie Merrill, a spokeswoman for DeSaulnier’s campaign, labeled the complaint “more Garamendi campaign gamesmanship.”

Bezis, who supports Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi for the open seat, earlier filed a different complaint, demanding that Tauscher, now an undersecretary at the State Department, to repudiate her endorsement of DeSaulnier. Federal laws prevent State Department officials from endorsing federal candidates. The endorsement, however, came after Tauscher was selected for the undersecretary position but before she was confirmed.

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“The previous complaint has been baseless,” Merrill said. “It’s all about political games right now for the Garamendi campaign.”

Garamendi also has faced his own accusations of violating state and local campaign laws.

Nearly three months ago, days after Garamendi announced his intention to drop out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary and enter the race for the open seat, a complaint was filed with both the California attorney general’s office as well as the FEC alleging improper use of Garamendi’s public office of lieutenant governor for campaign purposes.

State laws prohibit the use of public resources for political laws. During his gubernatorial campaign, Garamendi sent out an e-mail invitation encouraging Democrats to attend the state party convention and to stop by his office in the state capitol building “to discuss the challenges facing our communities, state and nation, and the solution I hope to work with you on in he near future.” The e-mail provided a disclaimer indicating that the Garamendi for Governor campaign paid for it.

DeSaulnier and Garamendi are just two of the four candidates vying to replace Tauscher in a special election scheduled for Sept. 1. The others are Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and upstart candidate Anthony Woods, an Iraq War veteran discharged after admitting he was gay.