|(May 5, 2019, 9:45 a.m.) -- Have you recently received a text message(s) from the Lena Gonzalez for state Senate campaign? With "vote by mail" ballots about to drop on May 6, an LBREPORT.com reader in ELB zip code 90808 reports receiving the following text message on May 4:
"Hi (recipient's first name), the election for State Senate is on June 4th. Democrat Lena Gonzalez is facing an ulra conservative, and there's a lot at stake. Come ot the candidate forum on Monday at Veterans Park to hear form both. Text me back if you want more info. (Text sender's first name) from Lena's campaign www.VoteLenaGonzalez.com"
As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, campaign finance reports filed by the Gonzalez campaign (previously reported by LBREPORT.com) show that since Jan. 1, the Gonzalez campaign has paid $8,925 as of April 20 to Oakland-based "Toskr, Inc." which operates a system it calls "GetThru" to send "interactive" text messages that invite recipients to engage in text communications. The messages, described by the company as "peer to peer messaging," may lead the recipient to think they're communicating with someone locally but they're actually dealing with someone hundreds of miles away paid to dispensse carefully crafted campaign messaging, in this case by the Gonzalez campaign.
The company's website-description of its "ThruText" system is visible at this link ("Don't just send a text, start a conversation. ThruText lets you have thousands of real text-message conversations through a powerful, centralized and trackable system.")
The company also offers a system it calls "ThruTalk" which says it can "call cell phones fast." To view the company's description, < a href="https://www.getthru.io/thrutalk/" target="_blank">click here.
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On its website link "about us," the company describes itself as follows:
Mission Driven from Day One
The firm's statement carries a certain local irony. As a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Mayor Garcia cast his vote to nominate Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Just hours before the polls closed, Garcia wrote on his Facebook page: "...I'm looking forward to the election tomorrow. My vote is not a protest vote against Donald Trump, but a vote for Hillary...I'm excited about the election. I'm fired up. I'm ready. And #ImWithHer."
As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, in 2018 a Garcia-run political committee (to which City Auditor Doud allowed her name to be added for a Mayor-desired Charter Amendments) paid the firm to send text messages as part of its six-figure-funded successful effort to approve Measures AAA-DDD (including Measure BBB, opposed by LB's Reform Coalition. The measure now enables LB incumbents to more easily seek third terms,)
The Garcia operation wasn't the first in LB to use the firm's services. 7th district Councilman Roberto Uranga's 2018 re-election runoff campaign reported spending $474 for Toskr between May 31 and June 30 for services it described in FPPC coding as "phone banking."
(If you received a text message from the Gonzalez campaign, LBREPORT.com is interested in speaking with you. We ask that you not erase the messages (text or voice mail) and let us know at mail@LBReport.com or send us a message via our Facebook page.
Toskr, Inc. is now a multi-million dollar operation. OpenSecrets.org by the Center for Responsive Politics says that in the 2018 election cycle, it received total reported payments of $5,514,322 from 105 political campaigns. They include Beto O'Rourke for Congress ($4.1 million), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 2018 ($26,986), Rashida Tlaib ($5.653) and "Need to Impeach" ($50,744.) Details here. .
The use of digital texting technology to do what telephone "phone banking" did and still does has outpaced rules currently applied by the CA Fair Political Practices Commission. In September 2018, Toskr itself requested a general opinion letter from the FPPC to make clear that its text messages, whether disseminated by volunteers, paid staff, or paid texters, don't require a disclaimer. FPPC staff declined to provide it. "Toskr, Inc.'s clients are ultimately responsible for compliance with the Act, and these clients may wish to seek further informal or formal advice if they are uncertain how the Act applies to their text message advertisements."
Toskr appealed that reasoning to the full FPPC, which agendized the issue for its January 28, 2019 and conducted a thoughtful detailed discussion for over 45 minutes with no clear outcome. Among the questions asked but not definitively answered by the Commission for now: Are such paid texts paid political advertising requiring the sender to disclosure who's paying for them? What would a disclosure look like in text form? Would a lengthy disclosure be infeasible for text messages? Are the texts more analogous to traditional phone banking where campaigns pay individuals to dispense carefully crafted campaign messages?
Following a lengthy discussion, FPPC Commission members ended up urging FPPC staff to return in the coming months with some type of proposed rule(s), not just an opinion letter, for possible implementation...with 2020 election cycle looming.
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