In a week, voters in San Diego’s southeastern neighborhoods will head to the polls to elect a new City Council member. We’re taking a close look at two claims made by opponents and supporters of Myrtle Cole, one of the leading candidates for the seat.

Statement: “Myrtle Cole is responsible for $10,000 in San Diego Ethics Commission fines,” San Diego District 4 campaign mailer sent by San Diego County Voters for Progress and Reform PAC.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

Analysis: Last week, voters in San Diego’s 4th Council District received an official-looking piece of mail.

“Urgent City Message to Residents of Encanto,” one version of the mailer reads. It is adorned with what looks like the city’s seal on top. The mailer makes a series of attacks against Cole.

One claim from the mailer stands out: “Myrtle Cole has a history of political corruption.” It alleges that Cole “is responsible for $10,000 in San Diego Ethics Commission fines” for accepting political contributions from big businesses with issues before the City Council in an attempt “to curry favor with an elected official.”

The allegation is wrong and the PAC making it should have known that.

The mailer cites a 2005 Ethics Commission case involving former District 4 Councilman Tony Young to support its claim. Here are the facts about that case:

The commission fined Young $10,000 for collecting campaign contributions after the city’s then-three-month deadline to pay off campaign workers. (The deadline was later extended to six months.) A fundraising limit exists to fight the appearance of a quid pro quo between elected officials and donors.

Cole was Young’s campaign manager for that race. Young had promised her a $10,000 bonus for winning the election, and he was fundraising after the race to pay that bonus and another he promised to a consultant. Young took 13 months to pay Cole and 18 months to pay the consultant. That meant it took him 15 months longer then he was allowed to pay off the debts.

Young, not Cole, was responsible for the ethics fine. Young simply owed Cole money and took a long time to pay it back.

Our definition of Huckster Propaganda is a statement that’s not only inaccurate but it’s reasonable to expect the organization making it knew that and said it anyway to gain an advantage. It fits here. Cole wasn’t responsible for the ethics fine, and the anti-Cole mailer cited a case with facts contrary to its allegation.

It’s not completely clear who’s behind the PAC that produced the ad.

San Diego County Voters for Progress and Reform says it promotes job growth, improved public education and reform-minded governance. In the last election cycle, the group raised close to $200,000 from the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County, the San Diego Restaurant and Beverage PAC and others. It paid for television ads to support failed Republican District 1 candidate Ray Ellis and mailers in Solana Beach council races.

The PAC’s public campaign filings to date make it impossible to know who paid for the Cole mailers. A call to the phone number listed on the organization’s campaign filings went straight to a voicemail and wasn’t returned. Ryan Purdy, a conservative activist listed on the filings as the organization’s chairman, did not return a call for comment.

April Boling, the PAC’s treasurer, said the organization has followed all applicable campaign finance rules. She declined to say who paid for the mailer.

The PAC also could find itself in trouble for using a logo similar to the city’s seal. A 20-year old city legal opinion says it’s OK to use the seal in political mailings, but state law says it’s a misdemeanor to use local government seals with an intent to deceive. A spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said his office is reviewing the mailer.

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Statement: Myrtle Cole “has lived and worked here for more than 20 years,” San Diego District 4 campaign flier from a San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council PAC supporting Cole.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: Cole’s brief residency in the district is something the candidate has struggled with on the campaign trail.

Cole lived in Redwood Village, which is part of the new District 4 boundaries created during the redistricting process. But the special election to replace Young, who resigned, is being conducted under the old lines because that was the constituency that voted in 2010 for Young’s four-year term. Cole moved into Paradise Hills, which is part of District 4 under both the old and new boundaries, in late December, just beating the residency requirement deadline for this race.

A labor-funded PAC supporting Cole references her residency situation on one of its fliers.

Cole, the flier says, “has lived and worked here for more than 20 years.”

Evan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the labor council and its PAC, defended the statement, saying the claim is accurate under any reasonable interpretation.

“‘Here’ means the community that she’s going to be representing, which is the new District 4,” McLaughlin said.

But Cole’s residency situation has become a major point of contention in the race, and the flier therefore implies something about a key issue that isn’t true. Cole hasn’t lived for 20 years within the boundaries being used for this election. Cole herself conceded in an interview last week that the flier could have been phrased more accurately.

The flier’s claim meets our definition of Misleading, which is a statement with an element of truth that’s badly distorted to give a deceptive impression.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to What claim should we explore next?

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government.

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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