My Statement to the S.F. Chronicle About Yes on 22 Using Nonprofit Status for Mailing Reflected My Ignorance; Other Ballot Measure Committees Have Used Same Status to Mail Ballot Materials

Last night I linked to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle “Cash-rich, Uber-backed Prop. 22 campaign scrimps on postage.” The article starts: “Proposition 22, the ballot measure to exempt Uber and Lyft drivers and other gig workers from being employees, got a nonprofit postal permit for its deluge of glossy mailers, allowing it to save millions on postage.”

I was asked to give comment for this article about the use of nonprofit status for mailing, and I initially declined, because I am not following the Prop. 22 campaign finance issues closely and my expertise is on the federal, not state, side. The reporter then pushed for a general statement, and I said: ““I have never heard of a campaign using nonprofit status for campaign mailers and cannot think of any circumstances where that would be appropriate.”‘

That statement was true—I had never heard of it and it didn’t seem appropriate to me. But I’ve since learned from an election lawyer (who I believe may be representing the campaign) that there have been numerous instances of ballot measure committees using nonprofit status for mailing. There was even a 2006 case, Alliance for a Better California v. USPS, where a party challenged an opposing ballot measure committee for using this status with USPS, and the federal court dismissed the case for lack of standing.

It still seems wrong to me that ballot measure committees can do this, but I now know that there is a history of committees using the status for mailings.

It’s my own fault for giving a quote after initially declining. I regret giving a statement that reflects my ignorance on this question.

Update: I asked for the Chronicle to post an update to the online story, explaining what I have learned. The editor in charge of the story refused, and wrote the following;

First, I want to acknowledge your discomfort with this situation. You are certainly owed consideration and further discussion, as well as an explanation of our policies.

It is not uncommon for sources and subjects of coverage to have regrets or even share newly discovered facts after the publication of an article. Under our ethics policy, we cannot retrospectively edit or otherwise amend our stories after publication unless we ascertain an error which requires correction.

In this case, you spoke accurately and truthfully about your own experience and familiarity with the issue Carolyn asked about, so no correction can be made.
I would add that your handling of the situation by publicly sharing what you learned following the publication of our story is an admirable model of transparency.

Should we return to this topic, we would be grateful for more of your time and would likely note your subsequent investigations into the matter.

I disagree with this decision and let them know it.

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