Guerrilla marketing fuels OC mystery campaign

by John | September 18, 2014 11:04 am

Back Turned Poster[1]Less than seven weeks from Election Day, political campaigns are looking for novel ways to distinguish themselves from all the election-related noise.

In Orange County, one creative independent expenditure has turned to a mysterious guerrilla marketing campaign to get its message out: It’s attacking a candidate — but won’t say just yet whom it’s criticizing.

Posters of a man with his back turned, such as the one pictured at right, have been appearing throughout Orange County. They’re posted in conjunction with a new website that asks, “Who Turned His Back on Us?”

The website,[2], features a short 15-second ad.

“He said he’d stand with working families,” the narrator opens in the online ad[3]. “We believed him. He turned his back on us. Coming soon we’ll find out who.”

The ad campaign, which is paid for by the California Alliance for Progress and Education, an Alliance of Small Business Professional Organizations, won’t say whom they’re targeting.

The strategy may seem odd. But it’s straight out of the world of guerrilla marketing[4], which uses low-cost techniques, such as street art, graffiti and posters, to generate buzz and build public interest in a campaign.

We’re writing about it. You’re talking about it. And that’s exactly what they want.

State disclosure reports have yet to reveal target

However, California’s Political Reform Act, which celebrated its 40th birthday this week, doesn’t take kindly to political secrecy. Under state law, the independent expenditure campaign will be required to disclose whom it is targeting once it meets certain spending thresholds.

According to state disclosure reports[5], the California Alliance for Progress and Education has received $2,111 in funding [6]from the California Dental Association since January. The committee lists Charles Bell and Thomas W. Hiltachk of the prominent GOP election law firm McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP as its treasurers.

Turned His Back Website[7]It’s unclear which competitive Orange County race the guerrilla marketing is targeting, but state campaign finance laws will eventually solve the mystery.

Then again, the campaign might test those reporting requirements. After all, it has yet to actually attack a specific candidate — pushing the envelope of what constitutes political advocacy.

According to the state’s campaign disclosure manual[8], published by the Fair Political Practices Commission, “An ‘independent expenditure’ is a payment for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified California state or local candidate or the qualification, passage, or defeat of a clearly identified state or local ballot measure, and the communication is not coordinated with or ‘made at the behest’ of the affected candidate or committee.”

The mysterious “he turned our back on us” campaign hasn’t “expressly” advocated the “defeat of a clearly identified candidate.”

What’s considered a “clearly identified candidate” to the state’s political watchdog?

The FPPC says, “A communication clearly identifies a candidate or measure when the candidate’s name, photograph, or status as a candidate or officeholder is used, or the measure’s name, popular title, or official title is used.”

No clues from domain registration

The campaign didn’t leave many clues. The internet domain was registered on Aug. 26 by Adrienne Moore, a Sacramento-based graphic designer[9], according to online WHOIS domain registration information accessed at

Without many clues, who could it be?

Jose SolorioBased on the location of the posters, reference to “working families,” and political leanings of the ad’s sponsors, the “man who turned his back on us” is most likely former assemblyman and current president of the Rancho Santiago Community College District Jose Solorio. The Santa Ana Democrat is competing against Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen for the 34th State Senate district, which the Orange County Register considers[10] to be “the most important race in the upper chamber.”

The election likely will decide whether Democrats have a two-thirds supermajority in the state Legislature.

“Janet Nguyen’s candidacy for state senate is the most important political fight in 2014 for Californians,”’s Editor-in-Chief Brian Calle recently told Forbes[11]. “And if Nguyen is victorious, Democrats would not have the necessary two-thirds majority in the Legislature to unilaterally raise taxes in the Golden State.”

Other possible contenders include the candidates in the 74th Assembly race [12]between Huntington Beach Mayor Matt Harper and Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry; and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, who is competing in the 2nd Supervisorial [13]district against Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel. All are Republicans.

  1. [Image]:
  3. opens in the online ad:
  4. guerrilla marketing:
  5. state disclosure reports:
  6. funding :
  7. [Image]:
  8. state’s campaign disclosure manual:
  9. Sacramento-based graphic designer:
  10. Orange County Register considers:
  11. recently told Forbes:
  12. 74th Assembly race :
  13. competing in the 2nd Supervisorial :

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