FPPC vs Sock Puppets; Chron Gets Press Clipped


sockpuppetThree years ago, when the California Fair Political Practices Commission began to study the use of the Internet as a mode of paid political propaganda, Calbuzz wholeheartedly agreed with the FPPC’s analysis that, “When a committee or candidate engages in campaigning, the public should know that the communication is being paid for, regardless of the form that communication takes.”

But instead of regulating bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers and others, as some at the FPPC were considering, we argued:

When the FPPC considers rule-making this fall, the fundamental principle should be this: Keep the burden of disclosure on the candidates, campaigns and advocates without creating undue burdens on the media through which they choose to communicate. (Especially us.)

So we were delighted to see the FPPC adopt new regulations last week requiring disclosure by campaigns and committees that pay an individual $500 or more to post favorable or unfavorable  content on Internet sites not run by those campaigns or committees. In periodic spending reports, campaigns and committees will have to identify who was paid, how much and to which website or URL the posting was made.

The maximum fine for a single violation is $5,000.

annravel-1FPPC Chairwoman, Ann Ravel, who is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation of her nomination confirmed today by the U.S. Senate to the Federal Elections Commission, deserves the credit. While her initial thought was to regulate bloggers and other online posters, she was persuaded by Calbuzz and others to focus FPPC scrutiny on candidates, campaigns and advocates, maintaining the legitimate, historic mission of her agency without violating anyone’s free speech rights.

As we have said on more than one occasion, when voters increasingly get their political information from online sources, they need to know if what they’re reading is bought and paid for.

Appropriately, the new rules allow campaigns to avoid reports for posts that are identified as paid for by a campaign, as in “The author was paid by the Committee to Re-Elect Mayor Jane Doe in connection with this posting.”

Hiding the ball: What the FPPC still needs to address is the time lag that will result from the days, weeks and sometimes months that will elapse between posting and reporting.  As Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, argued, the new rules are “a step in the right direction and … a very important step…(But) there shouldn’t be a time lag as a way of hiding the ball from voters.”

One way to address that would be to require more immediate reporting of spending made for online propaganda – reflecting the immediacy of online communications. (This is what originally caused Ravel and others to consider making the poster him- or herself disclose payments so that readers would know immediately that they are reading paid opinion.)

barking jackalOnce the FPPC has updated and revamped its web site, it would be simple to require candidates, campaigns and committees to update the site immediately whenever one of their paid propagandists posts something. Then it would just be a matter of making the online reading public aware of the site they can click on to find out if what they’ve just read is paid opinion.

Would that be an added burden on campaigns and committees? Sure. But they’re all employing an online operation already. This would merely allow the public – i.e. potential voters – to separate dispassionate argument from paid flackery.

The only people opposed to that are the paid flacks.

carlaPress Clips: Kudos to SF Chronicler Carla Marinucci for a nice scooplet about the internal meltdown of Abel Maldonado’s alleged campaign for governor. Costco Carla, who appears to be the only reporter in California paying attention to 2014, served up a dishy yarn featuring a hilariously fearsome farewell from Maldo’s chief California aide to a pack of departing national political consultants:

“These guys are political vampires. They suck the lifeblood out of a candidate and they move on to a new one,” said Brandon Gesicki, a longtime adviser to Maldonado, in a rare public slap at a nationally recognized team of GOP advisers.

“The only mistake Abel made was hiring them – and now he’s corrected that,” Gesicki said last week.

Lock up the kids, Maude, Brandon’s mainlining Rockstar again.

AbelMaldonadoEven before the latest incident, former Santa Maria mayor, assemblyman, state senator, lieutenant governor Sacramento resident Maldonado was already flailing to pull together a serious campaign effort to challenge Governor Gandalf which, as we’ve noted, is a quixotic task that could easily serve as the dictionary definition of “fool’s errand.”

Now, with his JV state flack trash-talking the likes of ex-McCain hand Howard Weaver and the ineluctable Fred Davis, Maldo runs the risk of falling far short of meeting the bare threshold of credibility, even before he starts running. Don’t forget, after all, this is a guy who managed to lose a toss-up congressional district race by 10 points to Rep. Lois Capps, whose biggest claim to fame is being the only ex-school nurse in the Congress.

Bottom line: Maldonado’s woes give yet another boost to the low-key, dark horse Trounstine for Governor campaign.

clowncarHard times at Hearst Chron: The Chronicle newsroom was shocked last week by the announcement that editor in chief Ward Bushee had been thrown under the bus, decided to retire, a few months after Hearst brought in a pair of new, new media types to run the joint.

Long-time Chronicle watchers (we name no names) see the departure of Bushee as the latest evidence that Journalism is being replaced by Tweeterism at 5th and Mission (at least as significantly for the future of the paper, the New Brooms at the same time whacked CFO Suzy Cain, who was only the smartest person in the building).

By all accounts, Bushee didn’t exactly work his fingers to the bone seven days a week, but at least he had the instincts, training and experience of a news guy. That perspective seems to be unshared by the new management team Hearst imported to fortify the paper’s steady march towards irrelevance.

In May, the company announced with great fanfare the arrival of the two new suits, digital marketer Joanne Bradford and media bean counter Jeffrey Johnson, whose stated mission is to “redefine the choices for how and where readers can experience the trusted Chronicle content they depend on.” Oy.

kaneAmid a breathless 1,067 word press release, bristling with phrases like “innovative branded entertainment partnerships” and “in-game advertising and self-serve search ad platforms,” it was telling that the word “journalism” appeared exactly once, and that in reference to an undergraduate degree Bradford took from San Diego State (Go Aztecs!) back before the Earth cooled.

The installation of the two into the  Titanic deck chairs corporate offices represent Hearst’s latest attempt to reverse the record of failure it’s racked up since overpaying ($660 million) for the paper a decade ago: losses of hundreds of millions of dollars and more than 200,000 subscribers, not to mention retreat from a commanding regional position to a skinny local daily of little interest to those outside of San Francisco (or on Twitter!).

marthaA few weeks ago, the new dynamic duo appointed city editor Audrey Cooper, the Martha Stewart of American Journalism, to the vacant Managing Editor job, reportedly based in part on her unbridled love affair with, wait for it…Twitter. Brash and cocky, Cooper’s news judgment seems shaped by a flaw not uncommon among young editors – mistaking her own interests, concerns and predilections for those of her readers.

One recent example: last Sunday’s front page, which featured a soft-hitting lineup of shopworn stories that had previously run elsewhere or, in some cases, many elsewheres: a too-little, too-late interview with Linda Ronstadt, flogging her memoir (readers who slept through the previous fortnight learned she has serious health problems that prevent her from singing anymore); a tired feature about fearful Oakland residents hiring private security (a month-old local TV story); a week-old account of a TechCrunch conference that featured boobs, simulated masturbation and generally boorish behavior.

In this context, it’s worth noting that, while the aforementioned Maldonado story had been posted online the previous Wednesday, at SF Gate’s “Politics Blog,” it didn’t get into the paper until Monday – the day after print editions of the Bee and the L.A. Times scooped the Chron on its own story.

mileyWhat’s next: It’s unclear what happens next in the newsroom, following Bushee’s departure.

Hearst’s smartest move would be to bring in a top-drawer top editor like Nancy Barnes, whom the company last week installed as big cheese at its Houston Chronicle. More likely, management may try to save money by leaving the editor’s post vacant, with publisher Johnson casting a closer eye on the newsroom, or foolishly hand the job to some twit from Hearst corporate, or rush the callow Cooper into the position.

“Putting Audrey in charge of the newsroom at this point,” groused one grumpy Chronicle critic,  “would be sort of like appointing Miley Cyrus Secretary of State.”

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