Betsy Butler's first campaign mailer of the 50th Assembly District election is the talk of the town. But not in a way the candidate hoped or intended. That's because Betsy Butler's "mailers" weren't mailed at all. Instead, they were wrapped around thousands of Mexican-made plastic baby bottles and hand-delivered by paid canvassers.
Reports of Betsy Butler's baby bottle mailers started yesterday, when reports started flooding in of bottles mysteriously showing up on the doorsteps of voters all over Santa Monica. Presumably, Butler chose to introduce herself to the 50th Assembly district via plastic baby bottles as a clever way to tout her involvement in a California law banning BPA from plastic baby bottles and sippy cups.
But whatever Butler's intentions, voters in the district were universally taken aback by the gimmicky mailers.
"When I came home, my first thought was it some sort of product placement," said Rick Moore, who lives in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. He didn't realize it was a campaign mailer until he took a closer look. "It's just an odd thing to receive as a 59 year-old man. I mean, does she think this is the next stop for me?"
Abby Arnold, a voter in Santa Monica's Ocean Park neighborhood was equally flummoxed. "I don't have a baby. What am I going to do with a baby bottle except throw it away?"
One voter in the Wilmont neighborhood voiced similar concerns, writing in an email, "Clearly, the Butler campaign addressed a bottle for every unit in my (11-unit) building. This struck me as extremely wasteful, and since I don't have kids and live in a small apartment, I'm now confronted with the task of figuring out what to do with it."
James Haygood of Sunset Park believes that Butler's mailer sends the wrong message to voters, "Little things do matter. Leaving a bunch of plastic junk around the neighborhood definitely tweaks the sensibilities of people here that know that dealing with environmental issues means a lot of people doing a lot of little things."
Another voter who lives north of Wilshire Blvd. voiced surprise that a candidate reportedly endorsed by the California League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club would dump so much plastic into the district, plastic which would more than likely end up in the trash.
"This is just bizarre. It's wrong. (CLCV and the Sierra Club) ought to look at how much landfill she's taking up."
Indeed, recycling statistics complied by Cal Recycle seem to validate this concern. The recycling rates for polypropylene plastics (the type of plastic the baby bottle mailers are made out of) is abysmally low, hovering around 5%.
"That's not a very green message," Rick Moore reiterated.
Voters also voiced concern about the Mexican-made Evenflo-brand bottles Butler chose to use. Democratic candidates normally go to great lengths to make sure any campaign materials, including mailers and lawn signs, are locally manufactured by union shops. The issue could prove particularly problematic for Butler, who's received tens of thousands of dollars in union PAC money.
"We always look for the union label on any printed materials a candidate hands out," said Arnold. "It lets me know that keeping good manufacturing jobs in California is a priority for them."
Evenflo, the company which manufactures the bottles Butler chose to use, could in an of itself also prove problematic for the candidate.
The company agreed in 2009 to stop using BPA in plastic baby bottles sold domestically (two years before Butler's BPA legislation was signed into law), yet quietly continued to ship plastic bottles made with BPA to other countries. The company has also been repeatedly (and successfully) sued for marketing defective products. In 2007, a jury awarded $10.4 million to the parents of a four month old boy who died of head injuries sustained in a car crash while riding in a defective Evenflo car seat. In 2008, the company had to recall a million child restraint seats when it turned out their seats could break off and fly around inside the car during collisions as slow as 38 mph.
The irony of Butler wrapping campaign literature touting her union and consumer protection endorsements around thousands of Mexican-made plastic bottles from a company with a track record of marketing products harmful to children was not lost on Arnold, the voter in Ocean Park.
"This is a highly informed, politically aware district. You can't fool us."
If Betsy Butler was hoping the baby bottle mailers would make an impression on voters, it can safely be said she's achieved her goal. It certainly made an impression on the Wilmont voter whose apartment building was targeted by the campaign.
"I was undecided on who to vote for in the election until I received Butler's baby bottle." she wrote, "Then I scratched her off my list."