With just six days to the primary election, a five-term congressman and a judge who pledged to bring integrity back to politics sent out mailers to voters that their opponents on Wednesday promptly labeled as false, misleading and deceptive.
Both targets of the mailings--Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), a candidate in the 38th Congressional District, and consultant Nathan Rosenberg, a Republican candidate in the 40th Congressional District--branded the campaign brochures as desperation tactics by candidates panicked that they might lose.
They also said that they believe they were libeled. But Rosenberg, acknowledging the difficulty of proving libel against a public figure, said, "In American politics you can pretty much say anything about anybody without any substantiation" and get away with it.
In the 38th District race, Superior Court Judge David O. Carter had been sending Democratic households a series of mailers that initially gave glowing accounts of Carter's career.
However, in the last week, he has gone on the attack. A Carter mailer sent several days ago claimed, "Assemblyman Dick Robinson has pandered to the biggest special interest in California. . . . It's a crime!"
On Wednesday, a Carter mailer sent to 40,0000 Democratic households erroneously implied that Robinson had been charged with a crime.
The brochure, using white letters on a glossy black background, said: "Assemblyman Dick Robinson was charged in a recent FBI investigation with accepting the services of prostitutes in exchange for his vote on issues favorable to convicted fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty."
Actually, no charges ever have been filed against Robinson.
Robinson said that FBI agents interviewed him once in connection with a January, 1985, allegation by Richard Raymond Keith, an aide to convicted political corrupter Moriarty.
Keith, who since has been convicted of income tax evasion, alleged that Robinson was one of many public officials who had accepted prostitutes paid for by Moriarty.
But "I was not a target (of the FBI investigation)," Robinson said. "They were more interested in questioning me about the procedures about how a bill became a law."
Moriarty, a former Anaheim fireworks manufacturer, allegedly used bribes to ensure passage of a "safe and sane" fireworks law that benefited his business.
Robinson called Carter's mailer "the action of a pathetic, small, little man who evidently is in a panic because he's going to lose an election. . . . It shows reckless disregard for the truth." After the election, Robinson said, he might sue.
Robinson also accused Carter of violating an oath for fair campaign practices but said he would not respond in kind. "I'm not going to get down in the gutter--eating, crawling in the gutter," Robinson said.
Carter, meanwhile, said, "I stand by that brochure." And challenging Robinson, he said: "All right, sue me. . . . Either now or after the election, I welcome his lawsuit."
Asked about the use of the words "charged in a recent FBI investigation" on the outside of the brochure, the judge said that he had not meant to use the word "charge" in any legal sense, as in connection with a crime.
"To me, as a person, it means he was named and charged by Keith in a recent investigation," Carter said. He added that excerpts from newspaper articles inside the mailer identified Keith as the person making the charge.
Carter said he had decided to take Robinson's alleged relationship with Moriarty directly to the voters because Robinson had refused to debate him.
"It's an issue," Carter said. "It will be a huge issue if he (Robinson) survives to November."
One local Democratic leader, Howard Adler, a past chairman of the party in Orange County, said he believed Carter had violated an early campaign promise to members of the Democratic Foundation, an Orange County fund-raising group, that he would not run a smear campaign against Robinson.
Carter's mailer would only help make Moriarty a major issue against Robinson this fall, Adler complained. "Why do we have to hand Dornan (incumbent Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove)) an issue for our nominee?"
Meanwhile, in the 40th District race, Rosenberg held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to attack, point by point, a mailer sent this week to 130,000 Republican voters by five-term Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
The mailer, claiming to compare Badham's record with Rosenberg's, showed the smiling congressman Badham opposite a picture of a frowning Rosenberg.
According to the brochure, these were Rosenberg's accomplishments: "a leader of est, a mind-control group like that of Jonestown and the Baghwan Rajneesh," "former est trainer," "linked to Rose Bird, the state Supreme Court chief justice who puts rapists and killers on our streets."