Are Migden's billboards illegal?

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(Graphic from Calitics)

By Tim Redmond

Lawyers hired by the state Senate campaign of Assembly member Mark Leno have concluded that those big, colorful billboards promoting Carole Migden all over town are in fact an illegal campaign contribution from Clear Channel Corp. That was based in part on my blog of a few days ago, quoting Migden as saying that Clear Channel paid for the billboards but that her campaign had paid for the printing.

Check out the memo here.

Well, the plot thickens: I just talked to Richie Ross, Migden's campaign manager, who says the senator was wrong: The Migden campaign never paid for printing anything related to the billboards. The boards, he insisted, were and are an independent issue-advocacy expenditure on the part of Clear Channel.

Well: My understanding is that independent means no co-ordination with the campaign in question, and it appears there was at least some connection here. Ross says he knew the billboards were going to go up, and that he talked to Colbruno prior to the launch. "I called him and said, 'Michael, walk me through the law [on independent expenditures and issue-advocacy ads].' He explained it, and I said okay."

Ross acknowledged that the billboards use the images and graphics from Migden's web site, but insisted that the material "was all publicly available."

No question: The graphics on the boards and on Migden's website are almost identical.

Now: I'm not a techie by any stretch, but I do have some modest experience in print and web media, and I can say that I think it would be pretty hard to download a four-inch graphic from a website and blow it up to the size of a giant billboard without some nasty issues of resolution. If I were going to print the big ol' plastic sheets that got glued to these billboards, I would have sought an original, high-res copy of the graphics, which could only have come from the Migden campaign.

But at this point, we don't know what really happened, since there is no written disclosure anywhere. And that's not good.