Oakland Zoo Mailer Misleads Voters

Once again the Oakland Zoo is not telling Oakland voters the truth. The campaign mailer sent this week by the Oakland Zoo to voters asking for support for Measure Y (Measure) misrepresents what is included in the Measure. The mailer claims the Measure will  .provide the following benefits to residents of Oakland:

  • Five-fold increase in science and wildlife education programming for Oakland students.
  • 100,000 free passes for low-income Oaklanders each year.
  • 25% discount on Zoo entrance for all Oakland residents.

This all sounds nice, but none of these promises appear in the Measure. The Measure does mention “increasing free admission opportunities for low-income children and families.” However, there is no specific number of free passes mentioned in the Measure language. Nowhere is there mention of the five-fold increase in education programming, 100,000 free passes, or a 25% discount for Oakland residents. And the discounts for Oakland residents was never even discussed prior to this mailer. There is no explanation of which Zoo entrance fees would the discount could apply to. A family pass for the year or just a one day visit? Because none of this is detailed in the Measure, the Zoo has no legal obligation to provide any of these promised benefits if the Measure is approved.

California Elections Code section 18522 makes it a crime to “offer or promise to pay, lend, or contribute, any money or other valuable consideration to or for any voter or to or for any other person to” reward a voter for voting for a particular measure. In this case residents of Oakland are being offered discounted passes and other valuable consideration if they vote for the Measure.

The Zoo hired as its campaign treasurer attorney James Sutton, who is an acknowledged authority on campaign finance law. Sutton once paid a huge fine for a flagrant campaign reporting violation while working for a ballot measure committee in San Francisco. There is no surprise in the Zoo pushing the legal boundaries in trying to get the Measure passed.

This is all reminiscent of the 1999 campaign in Oakland for State assembly where Elihu Harris lost the election to Audie Bock. During the primary the local Democratic party offered free chicken dinners to voters in certain areas of the City if they showed proof they had voted. While it was determined that was not illegal, the taint it placed on the election led to the shocking election of Bock, a Green Party member, to the Assembly.

As explained in my earlier post on Measure Y, the Zoo is continuing its history of not being honest with Oakland residents. Because the Zoo has failed to honor agreements with the City and other agencies there is no reason to expect them to honor empty promises in a campaign flyer that cannot be legally enforced. Buying votes is a crime. Vote No on Measure Y.