CERRITOS -- The Service Employees International Union filed a complaint against the Los Cerritos Community News over an advertisement the paper ran depicting a City Council candidate as a communist sympathizer.
Also named in the complaint is Brian Hews, publisher of the newspaper, who said a disclaimer that ran with the advertisement indicating it was paid for by the SEIU was a "production error." The ad should have been credited to an organization run by Hews, not the union.
"It's a complete misunderstanding," Hews told the Press-Telegram. "It was a production error. The people who came in here (to pay for the ad) represented unions and I just assumed it was the local SEIU. "
After publishing several news stories alleging misuse of public money by councilmembers, the paper on Feb. 1 ran a large advertisement, in bold red, showing Councilwoman Carol Chen's head in profile lined up alongside the heads of past communist leaders, including China's Mao Zedong and Russia's Joseph Stalin. The ad calls her an "agent of Communist China."
The SEIU's attorney sent a letter sent to the Community News Feb. 15, adamantly denying the union was behind the ad. Michael Cox, the SEIU's communications director in Sacramento, said the ad goes against everything the union of more than two million diverse members is about.
"The SEIU rejects the racist contents of the ad," he said. "It's important for us
Cox said the Fair Political Practices Commission has agreed to pursue an investigation based on the complaint, and is confident the newspaper will be penalized based on its failure to comply with disclaimer regulations.
In a letter dated Feb. 15, the SEIU's attorney asked Hews who paid for the ad. Hews said it was paid for by Citizens for a Clean and Honest Government, a political action committee he founded.
Hew is listed as both the principal officer and treasurer of the organization, according to paperwork filed with the state.
"I've made it clear," the publisher said. "I've made it transparent that I am going to take corrupt politicians out with this PAC - that's the reason for it. There's nothing wrong with it. It's not unethical, especially if I revealed it was me."
Chen and other council members say Hews made the allegations and published the inflammatory ad because the city had cut its advertising budget.
According to Hews, the ad was meant to be controversial, not racist. He said it referred to Chen as an "agent of Communist China, not a Communist."
"I tried to point that out to people," he said. "It's not a big deal to me. It was a misunderstanding."
Hews would not provide names of the union or union representatives he alleges paid for the ad.
"The unions came in and wanted a controversial ad, because (Chen) has bashed the unions in the past," he said.