Capitol Alert

Republicans, campaign committee settle elephant litigation

Steve Glazer, center, is greeted by supporters on May 19, 2015, when he won a state Senate runoff against Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Glazer, D-Orinda, was sworn in this week.
Steve Glazer, center, is greeted by supporters on May 19, 2015, when he won a state Senate runoff against Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Glazer, D-Orinda, was sworn in this week. TNS

The California Republican Party and an independent spending group have settled a federal lawsuit alleging that the group unlawfully used the GOP’s trademarked elephant logo on mailers during a hotly contested East Bay Senate race.

Terms of the agreement were confidential. “The party is pleased to have settled this dispute,” state GOP vice-chairman Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who represented the party in the lawsuit, said Friday.

The case arose after an outside spending group called the Asian American Small Business PAC sent pacyderm-bearing mailers in the weeks leading up to the March 17 special primary election in the East Bay’s 7th Senate District to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mark DeSaulnier, who went to Congress.

The brochures promoted Dublin businesswoman Michaela Hertle, a little-known Republican. “Real values, real reform, real Republican,” read one of the mailers, which featured an elephant logo. Hertle, though, had already endorsed Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, one of three prominent Democrats in the race along with Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo.

The pro-Hertle mailers were widely viewed as an attempt by organized labor opponents of Glazer, a moderate Democrat, to reduce his Republican support and keep him out of the runoff. Campaign disclosures showed that unions representing nurses, school employees, firefighters and other workers donated to the small business PAC during the time it spent more than $120,000 backing Hertle or hitting Glazer.

“It’s egregious on the part of a Democratic Political Action Committee to intentionally deceive Californians with its use of well-known Republican images,” state GOP Chairman Jim Brulte said in a statement at the time of the party’s March lawsuit. The party did not take a position in the Senate race.

Glazer finished first in the primary, while Hertle received 16 percent of the vote and finished fourth. Glazer defeated Bonilla in last Tuesday’s runoff by more than 11,000 votes.

Bill Wong, the consultant for the small business PAC, downplayed the mailers’ impact. “People are pretty well educated” about the candidates, he said Friday.

It’s become more common in the top-two era for mailers and other campaign communications to feature what appear to be trademarked logos of political parties, interest groups and others. Dhillon said she has responded to about a dozen instances of people improperly using the party’s elephant.

“Political professionals I think are getting the message that the party will enforce its trademarks,” she said.

Editor's note: This post was updated Saturday at 11:30 a.m. to correct a misspelling of Ms. Dhillon's name.

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