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Proposition 10 leaders say text message campaign was sabotaged

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“No California ballot propositions have had the level of antagonism we’ve seen for [Proposition 10]”

A cluster of dense white and beige apartments on a hillside at sunset. Tyler Lowmiller / Creative Commons

“Hey there Kelly! I’m Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a volunteer for Yes on Prop 10. Prop 10 will fund the construction of adding Hillary Clinton to Mt. Rushmore.”

That text message was not sent by Ocasio-Cortez, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York City.

Campaign leaders for Proposition 10, a November ballot measure, which is aimed at expanding rent control in California cities, say their supporters didn’t send the text either.

This and other messages like it were delivered less than a week before the election to thousands of California voters, including more than 300 in the LA area, likely by someone who opposes the measure and managed to infiltrate the campaign for Proposition 10 by volunteering for a text drive.

“These are pretty racist, out-there texts,” says Sam Felsing, a spokesperson for the Yes on 10 campaign. “We don’t want anyone thinking this is coming from us.”

One of the most high-profile initiatives facing California voters in 2018, Proposition 10 has inspired a bitter—and expensive—fight between supporters and opponents.

Groups fighting the initiative have raised around $76 million, while those in support have gathered more than $26 million (most of it from the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored the measure). Some of the nation’s largest real estate firms have poured money into the opposition campaign.

Both sides have accused the other of using particularly manipulative campaign tactics, and renter activists reported in October that some Los Angeles landlords were threatening tenants with rent hikes that would be applied if voters approve the initiative.

Yoni Landau, CEO of Resistance Labs, the company managing the text messaging campaign, says the sender of the fraudulent texts rewrote scripted messages and delivered them to potential voters between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening.

According to Proposition 10 leaders, a political committee backing the measure hired the San Francisco-based firm to manage a text banking effort. The company gives volunteers for political causes the ability to reach out to likely voters via text message—though the messages are pre-written by campaign organizers.

Landau says Resistance Labs discovered the rogue texts Thursday morning and blocked the volunteer who sent them. The same sender was then able to re-enter the system later that day before being removed a second time.

According to Landau, Resistance Labs has alerted recipients about the issue. But he says that, because volunteers can alter scripted messages, it’s possible something like this could happen again.

This is the first time that a volunteer has attempted to sabotage a Resistance Labs text banking effort, says Landau.

“No California ballot propositions have had the level of antagonism we’ve seen for [Proposition 10],” he writes to Curbed in an email.

The texts—which make false and politically-loaded statements about Proposition 10—appear to be designed to stoke confusion about the measure and the beliefs of its supporters.

Many of the texts sent last week included bizarre and racially charged claims about the ballot measure, including promises that it would “exclude African Americans ... from paying any taxes” and give “undocumented immigrants the chance to have a fresh start with a govt. subsidised [sic] Tesla.”

Steven Maviglio, a spokesperson for the campaign against Proposition 10, says the opposition campaign had nothing to do with the messages.

“We know nothing about them,” writes Maviglio in an email. The tactic, he says, is “certainly something we would not do nor sanction.”

Felsing, spokesperson for the “yes” campaign, says the texts are in keeping with “false and misleading claims” opponents have been making about the measure since it was approved for the ballot this summer.

Maviglio suggests that supporters of the measure may have sent the texts themselves as a “desperate attempt” to gain media coverage in the days before the election.

Recent polls suggest the initiative will fail by a wide margin.