By Mark Simon, Daily Journal columnist
May 12, 2022, The Daily Journal
From this little corner of this vast media landscape, it was reported last week that two major political action committees representing corporate interests had committed a combined $380,000 in independent spending to support San Mateo Councilmember Diane Papan and/or oppose Redwood City Councilmember Giselle Hale, two Democrats running in the 21st Assembly District.
Since then, the deluge has begun and it has created a stir in the race to replace Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, who is running for Congress.
All that money — add another $100,000 since last week’s deadline — has turned up in at least five mailings. Three of them praise Papan. One of them snidely suggests Hale is not prepared for the job. The most notable one is an outright, even classic, political hit piece.
It has a picture of Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg and a photo of Hale, deliberately chosen (and perhaps even modified slightly) to make her look decidedly unpleasant.
The text is a clunky attempt to play off the name Facebook: “This Face (Zuckerberg’s) is the Only Face … former Facebook Executive Giselle Hale Will be Accountable to in the Assembly.” The piece concludes: “In Sacramento, Hale will be fighting for big tech’s anti-privacy agenda, not for us.”
It buttresses these assertions by stating that Hale — indeed, a former Facebook executive, and, it should be added, a woman executive in a highly male-dominated industry — has raised substantial funds from Facebook friends and colleagues.
This brings to mind something San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said when he was criticized for appointing his friends to City Hall posts: “What am I supposed to do? Appoint my enemies?”
In other words, where else would Hale go for campaign funds but friends and colleagues, many of whom, presumably, were sufficiently impressed by her at work that they gave her money for her campaign?
As reported last week, the committees sending out these mail pieces are largely funded by the California Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association. In 2018, the CAA also waged an independent campaign — same use of unattractive photos — against Redwood City Council candidate Diana Reddy. That effort was so heavy-handed it created a backlash that probably helped Reddy narrowly win the race.
These same committees and their funders also made direct contributions to Papan’s campaign.
The anti-Hale piece prompted two sharply worded criticisms. San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla issued a letter “on behalf of community leaders and climate activists” calling on Papan to denounce the mail piece and to return the direct donations made by these committees, funded by “oil, drug, predatory lenders and energy companies, including Chevron and PG&E, who have put their profits over the interest and lives of San Mateo County residents.”
Another Papan colleague, Amourence Lee, issued a Facebook posting: “On Mother’s Day many of us received this cheap and sexist hit piece from the California Association of Realtors and California Apartment Association. These lies and ugly smear tactics are not the San Mateo way.”
She added that in the 2018 Redwood City Council campaign, Hale, also on the 2018 ballot, received direct contributions from the CAA. Hale denounced the anti-Reddy pieces and donated her CAA money to a nonprofit that supports female Democrats running for office.
Lee called on Papan to do the same. A phone call to Papan seeking her reaction was not returned.
There is a lot going on here.
Due to schedule issues, Lee was unable to elaborate on her assertion that the anti-Hale piece is sexist. She referred me to a Tulane University study stating that political hit pieces on women make a point of degrading their appearance in a very conscious effort to focus on appearance, rather than ideas.
Hit pieces are as old as politics, and I have seen hundreds that do to male candidates what this one does, including ugly pictures and exaggerated political ties.
But this one embodies an attitude that Lee and others find disturbing — even revealing — and they say are distinct to attacks on women.
In addition to the use of graphics, the piece depicts Hale as little more than a puppet of the tech industry and Facebook, in particular. That is abundantly absurd to anyone who knows and likes, or even dislikes, Hale.
The reason Realtors and the CAA oppose Hale has nothing to do with Facebook or privacy. It has everything to do with her record on housing and rent control while on the Redwood City Council.
Papan says she has just as good a record on housing.
But if the hit piece is about the company Hale keeps, the same could be said about Papan.