SAG vote turns e-nasty

Candidates use process to slam rivals

With the hard-fought Screen Actors Guild election ending in less than two weeks, the email — and vitriolic fur — is flying.

For about $2,500, or 8¢ per message, candidates can send messages to the 30,000 or so SAG members who have email addresses. That’s far less than it would cost to reach the 100,000 members by regular mail. It’s also an opportunity to continue slamming opponents since SAG has no control over content and distributes them through an independent electronic communications firm. SAG set up the procedure during the hotly disputed 1999 election.

All messages contain a disclaimer stating, “The guild is required by federal law to provide candidates with the opportunity to send you email messages. The following has been prepared by the candidates and is not endorsed or reviewed by the guild in any manner.”

As with the other written campaign material, the emails contain harsh criticism of opposition candidates, with most of the attention focused on the bitter presidential race between Melissa Gilbert and Valerie Harper. Several national candidates have sent emails with maximum distribution:

  • Treasurer candidate Amy Aquino, who alleged that members of Harper’s camp have prevented an audit report on the $2.5 million of expenses generated during last year’s six-month strike against the ad industry. Aquino also said a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 40 random strike expenditures simply did not go far enough.

  • VP candidate Mike Farrell, who is part of Gilbert’s slate and alleged that the strike was “probably not necessary at all.” He also wrote, “While Harper’s handlers are smearing their selected targets, their real agenda is to implant the idea that the commercial strike was a noble and virtuous effort in the best traditions of the labor movement and thus the highlight of the Daniels administration’s tenure. This is a lot of crap.”

  • Harper has noted that Aquino’s proposal was rejected on a voice vote a week ago by the national board and that SAG’s top two execs approved the Pricewaterhouse review. She contended that a number of participants believe they have been “accused after the fact” in the Aquino email.

“They are particularly upset that someone would spend $2,500 to send you an email making these accusations solely for political purposes,” Harper wrote. “Needless to say, I am personally saddened that it requires me to spend a similar amount of money to answer doubts raised by an individual just because she is unhappy with a decision of the entire board.”

With the balloting not over until Oct. 31 and more than 40 offices up for election, electronic campaigning will likely continue at a brisk pace even though most observers believe that members who will vote already have.

In another development, Hollywood board candidate Scott Pierce has asked Aquino to remove his name from a list of endorsements sent out by Aquino. Pierce, a former board member, said he was running as an independent, adding, “If I win or lose, I’d like to do on my own merits.”

Aquino responded by saying she was sorry and respected Pierce’s position. “I look forward to the day when SAG candidates will not be upset and/or insulted when others express a desire to have them elected,” she wrote to Pierce. “It is a very sorry state of affairs and one that is not seen outside our sad, sick organization.”

Pierce joins 9th VP candidate Esai Morales and board candidate Russell McConnell, both members of Harper’s slate, to ask that the Gilbert side withdraw its endorsement.

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