Screenshot of actor Troy Dillinger portraying an Army veteran in a Yes on 21 ad. Actual veterans, who are largely opposed to Prop 21, say the ad is misleading and violates the Stolen Valor Act.

Early in the election season, more than a dozen veteran groups came out against Proposition 21, the extreme rent control measure going before California voters this fall.

So, it raised some eyebrows — and tempers — when the Yes on 21 campaign began running an ad depicting a highly decorated military man promoting a proposition that veterans clearly don’t want.

What’s more, the man in the advertisement, who appears in full military dress and polishing a medal, is an actor with no apparent experience in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The advertisement on Tuesday prompted veterans to file a complaint with local and state prosecutors alleging that the Yes on 21 campaign violated the state’s “Stolen Valor Act” by using an actor to impersonate a war hero in a political ad. Such an offense would be punishable as a misdemeanor or infraction.

The ad fails to disclose that the “veteran” is really actor Troy Dillinger — and it gives voters the impression that veterans support Prop 21, when the opposite is true. 

The Stolen Valor Act comes from former Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. In addition to serving in the state Legislature, Chavez is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a former undersecretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the complaint filed Tuesday, veterans call upon Attorney General Xavier Becerra, San Diego County Attorney Summer Stephan, and Los Angeles County Attorney Jackie Lacey to investigate the apparent offense.

Former Assemblyman Rocky Chavez

“The members of the veterans’ organizations opposing Prop 21 are actual veterans of the United States military who served our country at great sacrifice,” Chavez says in the complaint. “The attempt of the Yes on 21 campaign to falsely cloak themselves the honor that is rightly accorded veterans is an insult to those who actually served and a fraud upon the voters. More importantly, it is illegal, and we ask that enforce the Stolen Valor Act accordingly.”

Although the Yes on 21 ad makes no mention of Dillinger being an actor, Dillinger himself bragged about the role on social media.

“I had the most amazing time at work this weekend, portraying a US Army Veteran for a cause-oriented project,” he says on his Facebook page. 

Screenshot from Troy Dillinger’s Facebook page.

During a press conference  about the complaint Tuesday, 21-year Army veteran Pete Conaty denounced the advertisement and the actor’s actions.

“The law says if you do this for financial gain, which he undoubtedly did, it is breaking the law,” said Conaty, who served in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge. “But the biggest thing is he’s bringing in disrespect to veterans and our military by pretending to be a veteran.”

The Yes on 21 campaign — including the ad in question — is being financed by Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. If Prop 21 passes, California will once again have the extreme forms of rent control that proliferated in the 1970s. Prop 21, like its predecessor Prop 10, is a crusade to dismantle the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act — the single most vital California law for rental housing providers.

Among other things, the measure would allow local governments to bring back vacancy controls, capping rents between tenancies; they’ll also apply local rent control ordinances to newer apartments — as soon as they turn 15 years old — and to a greater number of condos and single-family homes.

These impacts would lead mom-and-pop landlords to exit the rental market, exacerbating California’s housing shortage and leaving fewer affordable units for working families, seniors — and veterans.

Pete Conaty

Conaty said he wants to make sure veterans who see the Yes on 21 aren’t led astray when it comes time to vote.

“This is a bald-face attempt by the Yes on 21 campaign to claim they have veterans’ support when they actually have none whatsoever,” he said. “Veterans are opposed to this. It will make housing more expensive and harder to build in this state. … Don’t get fooled into supporting Prop 21 thinking the veterans support it.”

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