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Disputed campaign mailer causes stir in City Council District 10 race

A political mailer that arrived on residents’ doorsteps last month near Baldwin Hills is stirring controversy in the Los Angeles City Council District 10 race and prompted action by the council this week.

The City Council approved a motion Wednesday to crack down on fraudulent campaign materials and “deep fakes” after the Baldwin Hills mailer, which appeared to have been sent from council candidate and current Councilmember Heather Hutt, attracted attention. Hutt introduced the motion in early February, days after the mailer was distributed.

The colorful mailer included a picture of Hutt and Mayor Karen Bass smiling together and a list of endorsements. It was packaged with a printed list of official city resources and a logo that identifies Hutt as a council member.

This could violate regulations set by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission barring city officials from using their city title or position to support a candidate for office, including themselves. By allegedly including campaign materials alongside her City Council logo, Hutt broke this rule, her critics say.

But Hutt’s campaign consultant, Mike Shimpock, said the campaign was not responsible for the mailing and had no knowledge of it. He said someone downloaded the campaign flier from the Ethics Commission website, where it is publicly available, and then printed and distributed it themselves along with the resource list.

Shimpock said whoever distributed the materials was trying to make it appear that Hutt had violated the regulations.

“It’s ridiculous and it comes from somebody with an axe to grind,” Shimpock said. We never printed or produced this.”

Grace Yoo, a former city commissioner who is running against Hutt, said she thinks Hutt put in the motion to conceal an ethics violation.

“This is atrocious,” Yoo said. “The fact is she violated ethics. They get caught in their lies and they were covering their tracks.”

Devyn Bakewell, director of communications for Hutt’s City Council office, said the motion was put forward “in response to the reality that technology is way ahead of our ethics rules, not just locally but nationally.”

“Whether it’s dirty tricks against the councilwoman’s campaign, the fake Biden robocalls in New Hampshire, or the need for Purdue University to create a Political Deepfakes Incident Database, we must put an end to this activity now,” she said in an email.

Council President Paul Krekorian and Councilmember Traci Park seconded the motion. Krekorian was not aware of the mailer when he chose to support the motion, his spokesperson said.

Dianne Lawrence, a District 10 resident who wrote a critical article about the mailer for the CityWatch news website, disputed Shimpock’s claim that the flier was downloaded from the Ethics Commission website.

The graphic was posted on the website on Feb. 2, but Lawrence said residents received the materials in late January, before an outside party could have accessed and downloaded the image.

Lawrence sent The Times cellphone photos of the materials on doorsteps time-stamped on Jan. 28. Shimpock said the photos were “obviously” fake.

Shimpock also said the mailer could not have been from Hutt’s campaign because it did not have a small mark indicating that it was printed by union-represented workers. All of Hutt’s official campaign mailings include the mark, he said.

“This whole thing is so clearly fake,” he said. “We’ve run a completely clean campaign, we’ve been honest about all this stuff, and we’ve only talked about Heather.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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