Mailer misleads on Assembly candidate Steve Cohn’s discretionary spending

This ad attacking Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn makes claims about the candidate’s travel and spending that are misleading.
This ad attacking Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn makes claims about the candidate’s travel and spending that are misleading.

A union-funded group has bankrolled mailers faulting Sacramento City Councilman and Assembly candidate Steve Cohn for spending public funds on “international service” for his iPad. The ad superimposes Cohn’s face over an image of Paris and questions his use of discretionary funding. Here is a text of the mailer and an analysis by Jeremy B. White of The Bee Capitol Bureau.

Text: Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn voted to shift money away from the city’s general fund and into a City Council account that he controls. By transferring this money to his own discretionary slush fund, he can spend tax dollars with much less public scrutiny.

Steve Cohn spent $6,055 of taxpayer money on electronics and service contracts, including an international data plan for his iPad.

Analysis: While the ad gets some facts right, the Parisian backdrop misleads voters.

Every member of the Sacramento City Council receives a pot of discretionary funding they can spend as they see fit. Members have spent the money on things like interns, libraries, office supplies and public events.

The city budget that council members passed in August 2013 augmented those discretionary funds, adding $43,500 from the General Fund to the $55,000 each member already received. While some council members objected to the change and three voted against the budget, Cohn was one of the five members voting to approve the budget. His opponent in the Assembly race, City Councilman Kevin McCarty, voted against it.

A review of Cohn’s discretionary spending data from 2007 to 2014, the time period cited in the ad, shows purchases of electronic equipment like cellphone service and computer software. That includes a one-month international iPad data plan at a cost of $120 in October 2012.

Cohn said he purchased the international data plan so he could conduct city business that month while on a trip to Matsuyama, Japan, a sister city of Sacramento. Cohn said that he otherwise paid for the trip with his own money, not public funds. Cohn said he has visited Paris on various personal voyages and paid for those trips out of his own pocket. The sole international data plan purchase that appears in discretionary spending records is the one corresponding to Cohn’s sister city trip to Japan.

So the basic assertion that Cohn voted to increase his discretionary dollars is true, as is the fact that he purchased an international data plan.

But Cohn joined a majority of council members and Mayor Kevin Johnson in voting for more discretionary money and every council member received a boost, so suggesting that he voted to move funds “into a City Council account that he controls” is an incomplete picture. By juxtaposing Cohn’s face with an image of Paris and including an image of an iPad accessing Wi-Fi networks like “La tour Eiffel” and “Montmartre,” the advertisement falsely implies that Cohn spent taxpayer money on a personal trip to the European capital.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.