A new bill was introduced in state Senate Thursday that would prevent most local elected officials who are running for re-election from using taxpayer funds to send mass mailers within 90 days before the election.

The bill, if passed, would apply to elected officials at cities, counties and special districts. It was proposed by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Downey), whose district includes part of northwest Orange County.

“Elected officials should not use taxpayer money to send mass mailers when running for office,” Mendoza said in a news release Thursday. “Their status as an elected official should not give them an advantage over their opponents who may not have access to public resources.”

His bill comes on the heels of revelations that Orange County supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett sent out tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded mass mailers ahead of the June primary that prominently featured their names on event invites.

That matter is now under investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which is looking into whether the mailers violated state law prohibiting most references to elected officials on publicly funded mass mailers.

The existing law has exceptions that allow publicly funded mailers to have limited references to elected officials on event invitations.

Under Mendoza’s bill, violations of the 90-day ban could result in civil or criminal penalties. Alleged violations would be investigated by the FPPC, local district attorneys, or the state Attorney General’s Office.

“SB 45 sends a strong message that government officials should not use their positions to unfairly influence the democratic process,” said Mendoza.

Mendoza is seeking two-thirds approval from the Senate and Assembly, which would allow the law to take effect in time for the upcoming November election.

State senators currently have their own 90-day ban on publicly-funded mailers before elections, created and enforced by the Senate Rules Committee.

The proposed law replaces the text of an unrelated bill, SB 45, that Mendoza had introduced previously. The new bill’s text wasn’t yet available online as of early Friday, but is slated to be posted to this webpage.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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