Assemblywoman Beth Gaines has sparked a campaign controversy by spending state funds to send fliers almost exclusively to residents of her redrawn district who can vote for her in June.
Because California recently set new legislative district boundaries, Gaines is running in the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses some but not all of her current 4th Assembly District.
The Rocklin Republican recently spent more than $18,000 in Assembly funds on a flier soliciting constituents' opinions on state budget priorities, school improvement and dealing with the looming public pension crisis.
"This is your opportunity to be heard in the state Capitol," the flier read. "Elected officials need to hear directly from their constituents on the issues facing California."
But the opinions of more than half of the district were not solicited.
Assembly records show that 67,051 fliers were mailed by Gaines on March 13, almost exclusively to ZIP codes from her current district that were drawn into her new one as well.
Tens of thousands of constituents she represents in her existing district did not receive the flier, including those in Alpine County, South Lake Tahoe and portions of Sacramento County near Elverta, Antelope and Rio Linda, records show.
California law does not allow incumbents to use public funds for campaigning. Nowhere in Gaines' flier did it mention that she is running for re-election or urge residents to vote for her.
Nonetheless, Republican Andy Pugno, an attorney who is running against Gaines, said that the flier clearly is meant to court votes.
"The act of sending a promotional mailer at taxpayer expense to only those voters who can vote for her in the primary is clearly a misuse of public funds," Pugno said.
Pugno said he has not filed a complaint about Gaines' mailer but that it might violate state law prohibiting use of public resources for campaigning or for personal use.
Gaines characterized her mailer as a survey and said it was approved by Assembly administrators and was not used to campaign.
"I'm very proactive about communicating with my current constituents," Gaines said.
"I want to know how they feel about the upcoming budget battle and the whole budget process," she said. "That's why I sent out the survey."
Asked why she sent the mailer almost exclusively to constituents who can vote for her in June, Gaines provided no explanation other than to suggest that cost was a consideration.
"I communicate with my constituents based on the limited amount of dollars that we have to spend," Gaines said.
The fliers tended to go to urban sections of her current district within striking distance of Sacramento much of Placer County, for example.
Gaines was elected in May 2011 to fill a seat vacated by her husband, Ted, who ascended to the state Senate upon the death of Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks.
Gaines' mailer was reviewed and approved March 2 by the Assembly Rules Committee, which handles administrative affairs of the house.
"If my mail doesn't meet strict legal requirements, it doesn't get sent out, period," Gaines said.
Assembly members can send mailers only to constituents they currently represent and Gaines did so, records show.
Fliers must focus on public policy, they cannot be campaign pieces and they cannot be sent out within 60 days of an election, said Jon Waldie, Assembly administrator.
Assembly members decide for themselves what portions of their district will receive a flier. It is not unusual for specific interest groups to be targeted, such as boat or car owners, Waldie said.