Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Bottlegate" Blows Up Big In The 50th Assembly District Race

Torie Osborn literally cleaning up the mess her Sacramento opponent left behind.

"Bottlegate" as KCAL-TV and the LA Weekly have labeled it, has blown up big in the 50th Assembly District race.


Candidate Torie Osborn made good on her promise to pick up and personally recycle Betsy Butler's Mexican-made plastic baby bottles for any voter who asked. Osborn and friends were at the Santa Monica Community Recycling Center early Tuesday morning unloading boxes of the unwanted bottles, carefully unwrapping glossy paper flyers from the plastic bottles and putting the materials in the appropriate bins.

"I said I wanted to clean up Sacramento’s mess with your help," quipped Osborn in an email to supporters, "Little did I suspect we’d have to start so soon."

Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, another candidate running in the district, also couldn't resist piling on the puns.

"It's a gimmick that is cute, but wasteful. I don't think this is going to go over well with voters," Bloom said, referring to Butler's attempt to capitalize on her bill banning BPA from plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. "Her team is 'milking' her BPA legislation for all its worth."


Butler shows off one of her famous 
baby bottles at a campaign event on 
Sunday (photo: Miranda Robin)
When I reported Friday that Butler had distributed plastic baby bottles to voters all over Santa Monica and West LA, I didn't know exactly how many were out there until the story was picked up by the LA Weekly and KCAL-TV later that same day.

"Foot soldiers dropped them off on 6,000 to 8,000 residents' doorsteps (by her estimate), a reminder of Butler's victorious bill to ban the dangerous chemical BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, "Simone Wilson, reporting for the LA Weekly, wrote. "But we've got to admit this is some of the weirdest, not to mention wasteful, campaign paraphernalia ever to hit the Westside. BPA is scary and all, but so is feeding a baby with an unsealed bottle you found on your doormat."

8,000 plastic baby bottles is a fairly eye-opening number in and of itself.  But now I'm being told by two separate sources that Butler's campaign may have actually ordered up to 30,000 of the Mexican-made plastic bottles.

While I'm still trying to get confirmation, the 30K number does make sense, considering a typical campaign mailing for a district this size is anywhere from 40,000-80,000 pieces.

Eight ounce Evenflo plastic baby bottles retail at a little over a dollar a piece, then of course there's the cost for the campaign fliers as well as the fee to hire canvassers to attach the fliers to the plastic baby bottles and drop them off at doorsteps all over the district. So even if she paid the wholesale price for the plastic baby bottles, the investment for Butler's campaign would have been substantial.

Veteran campaign managers I consulted put the price tag for such an operation anywhere from $15K-30K.  Again, this is all speculative at this point, but campaign finance reports due in mid-May should tell the tale. And there's no word as to whether or not Butler will go through with distributing the remaining 22K bottles or just eat the cost due to bad publicity.


By Butler's own admission, she knowingly chose to purchase thousands of plastic baby bottles from Evenflo, a company which makes their bottles in non-union factories based in Mexico, a country where the minimum wage is less than $5 a day.

The candidate claimed she had no choice, telling the LA Weekly, "The reason they're from Mexico is because California and the rest of country have been so behind" on banning BPA.

Actually, Butler did have a choice. She could have chosen to forgo the bottles and find another way to highlight her involvement in the BPA legislation.

There are practical reasons why it's so unusual for any democratic candidate running for elected office to knowingly use non-union materials in their campaign. Candidates aggressively seek out union endorsements, not just for bragging rights, but because those endorsements often come with hefty checks from union PACS, as well as volunteer labor from union members for GOTV efforts.

Butler, largely through the help of Assembly Speaker John Perez, has received more union PAC money from Sacramento and LA trade unions than any other candidate in the AD50 race. IBEW, ILWU, UFCW, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades are just a few of the unions which have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Butler's campaign. 

One can only wonder how the membership of those unions must feel about their dues going towards the purchase of thousands of non-union foreign made plastic baby bottles.

So while most of the attention has been focused on the dumping of thousands of unwanted plastic bottles on one of the most environmentally conscientious districts in the state, the union issue could prove to be the next contentious, if less publicly visible, issue waiting in the wings.

Stay tuned for further developments..........

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