The Campaign That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Part I: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

The other day, I took a rare drive thorough the western suburbs.  I don’t get out there much, so it’s always fun to drive through a place that’s been good Republican territory – or at the very least, a place with a vigorous two-party government (which most of the “safe Republican” districts in this state are, in stark contrast to the one-party DFL gulags of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth). 

And I gotta say – I love the smell of a Republican-dominated district in the morning.  It smells like…prosperity.  And competence.  And hope.

It’s campaign season, so I noticed a lot of campaign signs.  There were lots of DFL signs sprinkled with healthy clusters of GOP signs in Bloomington.  The balance shifted decisively the farther north and west I got – Minnetonka, Maple Grove and the like.  Lots of signs for city council, Henco Commission and of course Erik Paulsen.

One that I completely missed?  Third District DFLer Brian Barnes.  40-odd days before the campaign, I saw not a single Barnes sign.

Now, we’re told that’s about to change.  Candidate Barnes tweeted this, last Wednesday:

(Say what you will about Barnes’ politics – whatever they are – but that is one adorable baby).

But let’s not focus on babies.   Look at the sign.

We’ll come back to that.


Now, I don’t know much about Federal Elections Commission law – other than that it’s incredibly intrusive, and that Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” isn’t anal-retentive enough to follow it.  I’ve seen campaigns for federal-level office – Senate, Congress – have to completely redesign entire literature pieces, signs and other products to fit some picayune codecil or another in FEC law.

But here’s the book – literally – for Congressional Candidates and their committees.  All 180-odd pages of it.  It’s the sort of stuff campaign managers and communications people make the big bucks to know.

And tucked away on page 66 is this little bon mot:

A disclaimer notice must be clearly and conspicuously displayed. A notice is not clearly and conspicuously displayed if the print is difficult to read or if

the placement is easily overlooked. 110.11(c)(1)…In printed communications, the disclaimer must be contained within a printed box set apart from the contents of the communication. The print of the disclaimer must be of sufficient size to be “clearly readable” by the recipient of the communication…

So where’s the “Paid for by…” whomever disclaimer?

In this photo, it’s that little squiggle of white tucked into the lowest of the stripes on the “flag”.

Aesthetically, it works for me – I mean, I didn’t write that FEC crap – but that’s no box,, and “inside the stripe” is the very definition of not “set apart from the contents of the communication”.

The FEC goes on:

…and the print must have a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the printed statement. 110.11(c)(2)(ii) and (iii). Black text in 12-point font on a white background is one way to satisfy this requirement for printed material measuring no more than 24 inches by 36 inches

While FEC regulations make me look for fiber supplements, we’re on my turf now.

Thin white type on a red background is a fairly low-contrast combination, especially on a sign that ‘s supposed to be viewed from a distance.  Indeed, for the 10% of men who have some degree of red-green color-blindness and depend on contrast to see reds and greens, it is to some degree or another nearly unreadable at all.

If these are the signs they handed out last Saturday, then they’re going to have a problem.

(And I’ll solicit feedback from my readers in the Third.  Are you seeing these signs out there?)


Now,  this is pretty niggling stuff.  True, it’s the stuff campaigns pay “consultants” the big bucks to know – and Barnes’ campaign has certainly ponied up for consultants.  Like, thousands and thousands of dollars worth.   And it does have the salutary effect of infringing federal campaign regs – so even if I think it’s no big deal, there’s a building full of intensely anal-retentive people in DC who likely do.

It’s just the first – and, let’s be honest, the most understandable and least not-ready-for-prime-time – of a series of flubs the Barnes campaign has put out in recent weeks.


As a complete side issue, I’m going to make the first of my fearless  predictions;  Barnes may do better than Jim Meffert in 2010 – but not much.  I say Paulsen wins in November by 16.

14 thoughts on “The Campaign That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Part I: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

  1. C’mon Mitch! You know very well that laws and rules are for everyone else! Lies the outright lies that spew in all media, DemocRATs only consider them an annoyance and don’t think that they have to follow them. You know, just like the posted speed limit is only a suggested limit.

  2. Campaign laws are idiotic because the penalties are irrelevant. Paying a few bucks in fines is a small price to pay for stealing an election.

  3. The picture says it all. I’m sure Barnes’ mommy and daddy are proud as can be that the little tyke is running for office, but isn’t that kid a tad bit young for Congress?

  4. As one of the “10%” who are “red deficient” in my color vision, I am not seeing the problem. First, there is no requirement that political signage be handicap-accessible, and second because red and black are pretty much the same to me. White on black is plenty of contrast and the typeface is way bigger than 12 point. My only complaint is that the sign leans left.

  5. J,

    There are many different degrees of color-blindness. While there may be enough contrast in the sign for many or most R/G color-blind people to see what’s written, it’s something a designer usually avoids just to be safe.

  6. His kid looks eerily similar to mine (also my first). If his experience with his doppelganger is the same as mine, I’m not surprised his signs are coming out so late in the game. These newborns make productivity and attention to detail difficult!

    But that’s what consultants are for, right?

    Well, if Brian is a good DFL-er, he’s telegraphed to his consultants and party faithful – “I’m a new dad with a much higher priority than running an un-winnable race – spend your time on better opportunities.”

  7. The disclaimer issue is bad, but I think that is a bit of nipicking.

    I’m more concerned with the fact that Mr Barnes is running for the ‘u.s. congress’. While it is likely an effort to fit the typeface in with the message, I’m not sure I could vote for a candidate who doesn’t capitalize the United States, and doesn’t seem to understand that ‘congress’ is any legislative body, while ‘Congress’ refers to one of the branches of government laid out by the Founding Fathers.

  8. “I love the smell of a Republican-dominated district in the morning.”

    Brother, you’re gonna have to visit my new neighborhood sometime…smells Springtime fresh *all day*! I’m pretty sure sporting an Obama bumper sticker will get a moonbat 30 days picking up highway trash.

  9. Pingback: The Campaign That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Part IV: Howling With Mild Approval | Shot in the Dark

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