Legal Alerts Nov 15, 2017

Calif.’s “Mass Mailing” Rule Amended by SB 45

Certain Government-Funded Mailings Prohibited 60 Days Before an Election

Calif.’s “Mass Mailing” Rule Amended by SB 45

Two changes were made to the California Political Reform Act when Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 45 last month. The first is a technical amendment that codifies the FPPC regulations directly into the Act. More importantly, however, SB 45 will prohibit sending certain otherwise permissible “mass mailings” within the 60 days preceding an election by, or on behalf of, a candidate who will appear on the upcoming ballot.

The Act states that “[N]o newsletter or other mass mailing shall be sent at public expense.” FPPC regulations specify which documents fall within this prohibition. FPPC Regulation 18901 currently defines a prohibited “mass mailing” as:

  • Tangible, such as a newsletter or brochure (but not e-communications),
  • Features an elected officer (e.g., a photo, signature or other manner singling out the officer),
  • Costs of design, production, printing and/or distribution exceed $50 of public funds, and
  • More than 200 substantially similar items sent in a calendar month, excluding responses to unsolicited requests.

Regulation 18901 also identifies certain “mass mailings” that may still be sent at public expense, notwithstanding the general prohibition above. These include:

  • The “letterhead” exception: Any item where the elected official’s name appears only in the letterhead/logotype of the item and the official’s name is not featured separately from other elected officials (names in same type size, face, color and location – no photos or signatures).
  • The “meeting/event announcement” exceptions:
    • An announcement to an officer’s constituents of a public meeting directly related to his or her incumbent duties, which is held by the officer and which he or she plans to attend,
    • An announcement of an official agency event where the agency provides its facilities or other financial support (no photos, signatures or more than one mention of the officer’s name).

Other exceptions include: 

  • Press releases and public agenda items,
  • Intra- and inter-agency communications, phone directories and organization charts/rosters and
  • Legal and regulatory notices, tax bills, checks and similar documents.

Those documents falling within the “letterhead” and “meeting/event announcement” exceptions are covered by this 60-day moratorium — meaning they now cannot be sent. Otherwise permissible “mass mailings” which are either sent by or on behalf of an officer not on the upcoming ballot or fall under any other exceptions, may still be sent during the 60-day pre-election period at public expense.

If you have any questions about this new law or the CPRA in general, please contact the author of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.

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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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