Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Camille Amezcua/The Collegian

Opinion: The misleading Measure E campaign omits vital information Fresno County voters should know

The following reflects the views of the writer and not The Collegian’s editorial board.

As an advertising and public relations major, I find almost all political campaigns to be jokes, but the Yes on Measure E campaign is especially loathsome. It is bizarre to me that, unlike most bond and sales-tax measures raising money for public projects, this one is only a “draft” and does not specifically outline how taxpayer dollars will be spent.

The ambiguous language, deceptive marketing and over-glorified positives of the measure are enough to keep me from voting “YES.”

I talked to several Fresno State faculty to dig deeper.

“The promotional materials for the Measure E Redux campaign includes a wish list of projects, but that list is not binding in any way,” said Kevin Capehart, an economics professor at Fresno State. “Even some of the apparent restrictions on how much can be spent in which ways are not as restrictive as they seem, especially if you can call the Save Mart Center or a football stadium an academic building.”

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval told Fresnoland that the project list advertised for the measure is only a draft. So under this plan, voters won’t actually know the projects they are paying for until after they vote to support the project.

The 2024 version of Measure E is asking for a 0.25% sales tax over 25 years that will generate about $63 million annually for Fresno State. This is an increase from the initial 2022 proposal of 0.2% over 20 years, which voters rejected.

“Ultimately, the Measure E campaign is a way to try to raise money for Fresno State to do some campus improvements that either the CSU budget doesn’t currently have, or that we’re not allowed to fund with state-side dollars due to restrictions on how money can [be] used on campuses,” said Lisa Bryant, professor and faculty chair of the Political Science department.

She said state allocation funds cannot be used for things like building new classrooms or deferred maintenance, emphasizing that unless people donate, the university is limited.

As a student, I have been in classrooms with tiles missing from ceilings, shutters missing panels, making for sunny, uncomfortable classroom settings and been a victim to the eye-sore CUPR construction that has prevented me from experiencing the campus to its fullest fruition.

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But is this the way to do it? The campaign has done a poor job of highlighting the measure’s specifics.

The campaign propaganda from 2022 to now, although more cohesive at the very least, has been jarring and misleading. Beyond random photos of nurses on billboards with the words “Yes on E,” what does it actually mean by it’ll add “1 cent on a $4 purchase, such as a coffee drink” when most Fresno County voters are already pinching pennies?

This idea of one cent on a $4 latte was a problematic marketing angle to use because, realistically, the residents who will be affected are not buying $4 lattes, and the wording ended up confusing voters if it would be one cent or four cents on a $4 purchase.

Bryant said that the measure’s timing was risky because during primary elections mostly repeat, conservative, voters turn out, and marketing the coffee aspect can be seen as a frivolous cost to people who are already struggling.

“With any regressive tax, you’re going to lose a fraction of voters against a sales tax because the people with the lowest income are still paying the same amount for goods and services that people with the highest incomes are,” Bryant said.

The United States Census Bureau reported that in Fresno County, 18.6% of residents live in poverty, the per capita income within the past 12 months is $30,130 and the median household income is $67,756.

To put that into perspective, Fresno ranks 39th out of California’s 58 counties in median household income according to The National Institute of Health and Minority Disparities as of 2021.

However, this year the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration reported Fresno County has an average sales tax rate of 7.975%, which is higher than most counties with a larger median income, like Ventura, Santa Barbara, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

“When was the last time you truly saw Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association stand alongside each other in principle and purpose?” asked former Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian at a Feb. 12 news conference, Fresnoland reported.

It’s an eerie coincidence that groups that generally are against each other agree for once.

So, news flash: all of you self-proclaimed “broke” college students, just like me, will be affected the most.

There are things about Measure E that seem problematic, especially when Fresno State officials are not supposed to be publicly advocating for its passage.

Where did the projected project list the campaign is so tirelessly advocating for come from, if the campaign has to be completely unassociated with Fresno State officials?

“While it is permissible for the [Board of] Trustees to communicate a position concerning an initiative that impacts the CSU or any campus, state law prohibits the CSU from engaging in political advocacy efforts to influence a vote. California law requires that the CSU remain ‘entirely independent of all political and sectarian influence,’” states California Education Code §66607.

Capehart shared with me the results of a Freedom of Information Act request he filed asking for “…any communications between Mr. Michael Lukens, Executive Director of Government Relations for Fresno State, on the one hand, and university employees or the representatives of the ‘Yes on E’ committee.”

He found an email with the subject heading “Measure E priority projects,” addressed to Debbie Adishian-Astone, vice president for administration and chief financial officer of the university.

“Do you have a list of the projects that you can send me? Thank you,” said Lukens in the email to Adishian-Astone.

When asked about the email, Lukens told The Collegian he was acting on behalf of the university president who wanted him to send details about Measure E to Associated Students Inc.

All of this makes me uneasy because it seems as if the administration is too involved with the inner workings of the Yes on E campaign.

Public records on Campaign Docs eRetrivial when searching for the March 5 primary election by ballot measure reveal that “Recipient Committee Campaign Statements” filed Jan. 25, Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 have one particular marketing business they have paid exactly $11,959.22 to: Catalyst.

The Catalyst Marketing Company’s “About” page lists CEO Mark Astone, and Vice President of Client Services Andrew Astone.

I asked Lisa Bell, Fresno State public information officer: “It is my understanding that Mark Astone is the CEO of that agency and that he is married to Debbie Adishian-Astone, can you confirm this? Given that Debbie Adishian-Astone is in the president’s cabinet and would be involved in recommending/administering Measure E projects if the measure is passed, is the administration at all concerned that this might be perceived as a conflict of interest?”

I got a response from Bell on behalf of the university.

“The university has no involvement in nor any influence regarding the Measure E campaign. CSU capital projects, including those that would be funded through Measure E, are subject to conflict of interest laws and CSU policy,” Bell responded in the email.

It’s worth mentioning that some pro-Measure E sponsored ads have been posted on YouTube by a “John Catalyst.” The only thing I could track down about this person was a Facebook account under “John Q. Catalyst” who has worked at Catalyst Marketing Company and lives in Fresno.

I’ll leave it at that.

In an Instagram reel posted by @Fresno_Measure_E, Jiménez-Sandoval is depicted in an ad paid for by Measure E. This set off a million alarms for me.

“Today I speak to you as a private citizen who is deeply concerned about the future of our region, but also deeply hopeful about what the possibilities lie ahead of us,” he said before talking about specific positives he foresees.

If he was coming as a private citizen, I don’t understand why the caption for the video says: “Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval is speaking as a private individual. He is the president of Fresno State, but his point of view does not reflect the University’s.”

If he were a private citizen, why mention the university? If Jiménez-Sandoval’s private views are not supposed to reflect those of the university, then whose does? If President Joe Biden was speaking as a “private citizen,” he’s still the President of the United States.

Is it even possible for the president of an institution to share “private” views publicly about topics directly related to that institution?

“The president has walked a very fine line,” Bryant said about Jiménez-Sandoval’s Measure E communication. “Anytime a 501(c)(3) is involved in campaigning, there are keywords that trigger a violation of policy.”

The last phenomenon I’ll touch on is the breakdown of who is supposed to be in charge of the funds.

Under 4.60.170, the measure outlines the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Committee made up of seven members, in which five members are appointed by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, one appointed by the CSU chancellor’s office and one by the Fresno State president’s office.

The role of the committee is to ensure revenue is used for the purposes specified in the measure with citizens’ input. Members will be appointed in five-year terms, serving no more than three consecutive terms, meaning they can technically serve up to 20 years.

Capehart also has questions about who will benefit from the measure, including members of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee.

“Perhaps some of the backers of the measure will be rewarded for their support with those positions,” Capehart said. “Or perhaps some current or past university administrators will be able to settle into one of those positions. People involved in the measure will also presumably have opportunities to consult with other CSUs on how they, too, can pass their own sales tax measures.”

What caught my attention is the compensation provision:

“Members of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee, at their discretion, and unless precluded by law, shall be entitled to receive a per diem or monthly stipend in an amount set by majority vote of the Committee at a publicly noticed meeting. In no case may the total per diem or stipend exceed the established compensation of the Fresno County Senior Board Member Assistant to the Board of Supervisors, or an equivalent position within County employment,” it states.

In simpler terms, committee members could get compensated up to about $80,000, referencing the most recent information of the salary of senior board members. This raises eyebrows because compensation for community committees is usually unlikely.

Bryant said she wants to see the university succeed and that the measure could do a lot of good, but says it’s important for voters to always be skeptical and ask questions.

“Why are members of the Board of Supervisors, who are generally opposed to taxes, in favor of the taxes,” she asked. “Exactly how much are people on the board (Citizens’ Oversight Committee) going to be compensated? If you go to the Fresno County website and you look at all other boards, committees and commissions and you look at the compensation, most of them are not compensated.”

She emphasized that the ones that are compensated are only paid per diem about $75-$100.

I think that’s a drastic, gross difference between a few bucks and a huge salary. Just thinking about people being paid $80,000 to share their opinion about Fresno State when you could ask students or people directly involved with Fresno State for free, but they’d rather hire random people who are supposed to be unaffiliated.

In all honesty, I hate politics. However, I hate uneducated voters or non-voters more, specifically people who can vote, but choose not to.

It would be a disservice as a journalist and as a student studying advertising and public relations to not inform the public of all of this so they can make their own informed decisions.

We’re taught so much about ethics and false advertising, so I believe it is my duty to pick up and inform what the campaign neglected to do. This measure is not all rainbows and butterflies.

It might benefit Fresno State, but it might also benefit developers or politicians even more when there are no guarantees about how exactly the money will be spent. I just think that’s too big of a risk, so I will vote “NO.”

Whether you agree or disagree, I still strongly encourage you to vote.

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About the Contributor
Jiselle Cardenas
Jiselle Cardenas, Editor-in-Chief
Jiselle Cardenas is senior at Fresno State and serves as Editor-in-Chief for The Collegian. Jiselle has been writing for The Collegian since Spring 2023, beginning her journalism career as News Editor. She specializes in writing news, lifestyle and opinion stories. Jiselle is a Media, Communications and Journalism major with an emphasis in advertising and public relations. She aspires to pursue a career as a publicist or copywriter. She just wants to find a way she can apply her passion for writing to her career.
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  • J

    JohnMar 4, 2024 at 6:45 pm

    I appreciate your non biased analysis and opinion on this matter. We need more journalists like you 👍

  • K

    Kat McElroy, Libertarian Party of Fresno CountyMar 4, 2024 at 12:10 am

    Great reporting, Jiselle! This measure and the publicity campaign pushing it stinks.