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Taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns like the Unified Port of San Diego’s $59,000 anti-Proposition B effort are now illegal.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission today voted 4-1 to clarify state law and forbid public agencies from paying for political advertisements — unless they offer a balanced and impartial presentation of relevant facts.

The commission’s staff, which proposed the change, cited the port’s opposition to a November ballot measure as a reason. The failed ballot initiative aimed to allow development at the port’s 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, effectively usurping the port board’s planning power.

As we detailed in a July story, the port bought advertisements in 18 publications throughout San Diego earlier this year.

From that story:

The Unified Port of San Diego’s board has a message for you. It thinks a developer’s proposed November ballot initiative that would usurp its planning power is a horrible idea. It is vehemently opposed and wants you, a potential voter, to know it. Oh, and it wants you to remember that when you go to vote. … The advertisement never specifically tells voters to vote against the proposal from developers Richard Chase, Nancy Chase and Frank Gallagher. But it does remind them, when they’re voting, to remember what the port thinks.

You can’t do that any more.

The FPPC says any outreach sponsored by a public agency should be “fair and impartial.” In proposing the change earlier this year, the FPPC cited the port’s ad campaign as a “more extreme” example of a public agency pushing the law’s limits with a “clearly biased” public outreach campaign.

ROB DAVIS

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