By Tim Redmond
There's been a fair amount of flap over the big billboards featuring Carole Migden that appeared all over the Third Senate District around Pride weekend. The messages -- describing Miden as a leader and thanking her for her work -- don't include any statements identifying the donor who paid for them. That's led some to suggest that it's a clandestine gift from Clear Channel, which owns the billboards.
But according to Michael Colbruno, a former Migden aide and close ally who now works for Clear Channel, there's another explanation:
The billboards, he told me, are "issue advocacy" ads -- which means they're not regulated by campaign-finance disclosure laws. They were purchased, he said, by an individual or entity that is not a campaign committee -- and Clear Channel won't say who it is.
"It's not a political sale," he said. "It's an independent advocacy ad, and the payment information doesn't have to be disclosed."
I asked him if Clear Channel charged the ad buyer full price or perhaps offered a discount. "We don't disclose rates," he said.
The ads sure look political to me: One of them thanks three local legislators for supporting the infrastructure bonds -- Migden, Don Perata and Leland Yee -- and pointedly leaves out another member of the local delegation, Mark Leno, who also supported the bonds, and who happens to be challenging Midgen in next year's state Senate primary.
But what Colbruno is telling me is that an unknown donor has just done a huge favor for Migden, worth potentially tens of thousands of dollars -- and the public will never know who it was.
Leno, not surprisingly, was furious to hear about this:
"The only way this situation can be considered legal is if the suggestion is that these billboards are issue-advocacy ads and not campaign related -- but anyone who believes that is a fool," Leno told me. "If anyone tried to thank me this way, I would tell them no and make them take it down."
I'm pretty dubious, too -- I'm sure Migden knows who paid for the ads, and she ought to tell the rest of us.