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You've got mail: a deluge of campaign mailers

Tyler Pratt/KCBX News
A recycling bin full of election mailers means income for area recyclers.

Two weeks after the general election, San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong says his office is still counting vote-by-mail ballots. He expects to release more numbers later this week, and next. But one thing has halted: those election mailers stuffing mailboxes since summer. How much do campaigns spend on mailers? How many mailers were there? And where do they end up when the election is over?

If you live in San Luis Obispo County, odds are you probably received at least one election mailer about Measure G. Or maybe 10 or 20.

“This last week I got a mailer every day,” San Luis Obispo County resident Kathy Teufel said. “One day I got two mailers”.

According to current unofficial election numbers, it doesn’t appear as though that measure to curb future petroleum extraction in the county will pass. But the ‘Yes of G’ campaign sent out a lot of slate mailers in their effort to sway voters. So did the ‘ No on G’ campaign.

“We paid to be in a slate mailer, but that are common forms of communication in the state.” Matthew Cunningham said. He is the spokesperson for the ‘No on G’ campaign, which spent a lot of money on campaign advertising. “I think it’s something over $8 million dollars, but that’s all publically disclosed and public knowledge.”

That public knowledge can be found in campaign finance disclosure forms. Every political campaign has to file them, but it doesn’t make them always easy to read or understand.

For example, in the late-September to mid-October filing period of this year, it's unclear exactly what the ‘No on G,’ campaign spent in total on mailers. But the campaign spent just over one $100,000 with the US Postal Service. For the same time period, the ‘Yes on G’ campaign used a place called Mailrite Print and Mail in Sacramento where they spent just under $40,000.

So while the ‘No on G’ campaign sent out a lot of mailers, so did all the other election campaigns for candidates and props on the ballots across the state.

KCBX News reached out to the U.S. Postal Service to find out how many election mailers were actually processed in San Luis Obispo County. For the same previously—late-September to mid-October—the USPS processed roughly 675,000 mailers. Yet in 2016, during the same period of time, they processed 818,000 mailers, almost triple the population of San Luis Obispo County.

So do all those mailers become trash when the election is over?

“It’s not necessarily trash, you have to be careful, it’s recyclable,” Patti Toews said. “So all those things you’re getting in the mail, they can go into your recycling.”

Toews is program director at the Integrated Waste Management Authority, which manages waste for the county. She says a lot of those mailers do actually end up in recycling bins.

“That doesn’t necessarily negate the carbon footprint of cutting down the tree and using the inks, printing, and manufacturing and you know all the other things,” Toews said. “But in the end, [mailers] can be recycled and made into new product. It honestly is not the recyclers in the county’s biggest problem. In fact, they are happy to see it. They are happy to see the paper product and cardboard product. Their issues are with other things like people putting garden hoses in their recycling when they are not recyclable, or people accidentally recycling things that are not recyclable [such as] foods and liquids.”

So who is most affected the most by the mailers?

“It actually doesn’t impact us,” Toews said. “But it impacts every household and business in the county.”

But for those feeling bombarded by mail around the election, unlike telemarketing communication or direct mail, there is not a "Do Not Call Registry" for election slate mailers. When voters register in California, there’s no box to check to opt out of third-party election material. The U.S Postal Service says it can’t keep them out of your mailbox unless you halt all your mail or you change your address.

The postal service says the only way to stop getting election-related mailers is to reach out to each campaign and let them know you don’t want to be contacted, once the next big election season gets underway in 2020.

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