Marin DA race roiled by party endorsement controversy
The Marin Democratic Party’s endorsement in the Marin County district attorney’s race has taken center stage.
Last month, candidate Lori Frugoli objected to her opponent, Anna Pletcher, stating in her candidate statement that she was endorsed by the party. Pletcher did receive the endorsement, but California election law specifies “the statement shall not include the party affiliation of the candidate, nor membership or activity in partisan political organization.”
The matter was ultimately decided by Marin County Superior Court Judge Roy Chernus, who ruled that the statement, while improper, would be allowed to stand due to a procedural error by the Marin County Registrar of Voters.
Now, Pletcher is raising issues about various campaign mailings by Frugoli, which she says make it appear that Frugoli was endorsed by the Democratic Party.
“The Frugoli campaign’s recent attempt to censure the section of my ballot statement noting that I am endorsed by the Marin Democratic Party seems particularly ironic,” Pletcher wrote in an email, “given their history of deception around this issue.”
At the end of August, the Marin Democratic Party issued a statement decrying what it said was a “misleading” mailer by Frugoli.
“The mailer features the phrase, ‘The Only Democratic Candidate’ in large bold font followed by ‘Endorsed by Every Former Marin County DA’ in a much smaller font,” according to the statement.
It went on to state: “Due to the emphasis and treatment placed on the phrase ‘The Only Democratic Candidate,’ the Marin Democratic Party sees this as an attempt to confuse or mislead voters and urges the Frugoli campaign to cease such actions in the future.”
“We understand that candidates in hotly contested races will often push the envelope in their attempts to mitigate the impact of their opponent’s endorsements,” Paul Cohen, chairman of the Marin Democratic Party, said in the statement. “In this case, we felt it crossed the line.”
In another mailer, Frugoli’s name is followed by a line that reads: “Most qualified candidate & only Dem.” The line underneath that line states, “Endorsed by every former Marin DA.”
Frugoli has sent out at least two flyers labeled as Democratic voter guides that list her as the recommended candidate in the district attorney’s race.
“Although there is a fine-print disclaimer noting that these are not official party endorsements, these mailers are a clear attempt to confuse voters regarding the Democratic endorsement for the DA’s race,” Pletcher wrote in her email.
In a statement, Frugoli’s campaign responded, “Pletcher complains about a statement she concedes is ‘factually correct,’ that Lori is the only Democratic candidate endorsed by every former Marin County DA. Marin voters are extremely intelligent and will not be confused by varying font sizes or different types of mailers about this statement.”
Pletcher notes that Frugoli has also dispatched a “Latino Voter Guide” and “Senior Voter Guide” that list her as the preferred candidate.
“I am endorsed by multiple Latino organizations,” Pletcher wrote. “I do not believe she has any such endorsements. I am not aware of any senior citizen groups endorsing Ms. Frugoli.”
Andre Charles, Frugoli’s campaign manager, said, “We sent out slate mailers; but we made no such claim.”
Brian Sobel, a Petaluma-based political analyst., said, “The use of slate cards is pervasive in politics and races of every stripe. They are sold knowing that they often times infer things that may or may not be 100 percent accurate.”
According to Pletcher’s campaign manager, Ross Green, during the primary Frugoli’s campaign paid $22,496 to voter guide companies producing slate mailers.
Pletcher said that she has made her voting record and party affiliation public; Frugoli, a Marin County deputy district attorney, has not.
In a statement, the Frugoli campaign wrote that Frugoli’s voting record was sealed “after a criminal defendant she was prosecuting made a specific threat in a jury trial to cut or slice her up.”
Charles said releasing Frugoli’s voting record public would have resulted in her address being made public.
Pletcher, however, challenged that explanation.
“I’m a prosecutor too,” Pletcher said. “I’m not aware of any prosecutors who as a matter of course seal their voter records. There are procedures for public safety officials who are concerned about their address being disclosed to just seal that piece of it.”
The Frugoli compaign countered that Pletcher spent most of her career as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
Following the court decision that allowed Pletcher to include the information about her Democratic Party endorsement in her campaign statement, Frugoli requested that Marin County Registrar of Voters Lynda Roberts correct some statements her office included in its court statement.
According to that court statement, Charles first registered a complaint about Pletcher’s campaign statement on Aug. 17.
The registrar’s court statement went on to say that it wasn’t until Aug. 21, a day after the 10-day window for the filing of writs challenging candidate statements had expired, that Charles notified the registrar’s office that the endorsement would disclose Pletcher’s party affiliation; the Marin Democratic Party’s bylaws require that all endorsed candidates be party members.
In his decision, Judge Chernus wrote that the law “expressly requires any challenge to the contents of a candidate’s statement to be made during the 10-day period following the deadline.”
According to Frugoli, however, Charles actually registered his initial complaint on Aug. 13, and was led to believe that Pletcher’s candidate statement would be corrected. Frugoli said Charles discovered the registrar wasn’t planning on challenging the statement on Aug. 20 when he called to ask if any concerns had been raised regarding her statement.
Frugoli said Charles told the registrar’s office on Aug. 20, before the deadline, that according to the California and Marin County Democratic bylaws only party members can receive the party’s endorsement.
In her note to Roberts, Frugoli wrote, “The timeliness of responding to the initial complaint, or lack thereof, was entirely the result and the responsibility of the Elections Department and the Registrar. This fact should be unequivocally communicated to the public.”
Roberts, however, declined to amend her statement.
In response, she wrote, “The Elections Department must maintain a neutral position and making any additional statements on this matter – statements that are not called for by the statutory and judicial process — could jeopardize this stance.”