A Democratic Party letter seeking funds to defeat candidates espousing the political philosophy of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. violated state election laws, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Los Angeles County Democratic officials this month sent over 5,000 of the letters to the party faithful, warning: "The same people who believe Walter Mondale is a drug pusher and KGB agent have sworn to take over our Democratic Party at all costs."
Democratic officials have identified 24 LaRouche candidates running as Democrats and Republicans for nominations to the U.S. Senate, 16 congressional seats and 7 Assembly seats.
Party officials in Los Angeles County are particularly concerned about the 29 La Rouche-backed candidates they say are seeking seats on the county central committee. Three other La Rouche followers are running for GOP county central committee seats.
Money is needed, the Democratic letter said, to allow wider distribution of the party's county newspaper that lists the candidates.
Kushro Ghandhi, West Coast coordinator for LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee, sued the party's county committee, its chairwoman and editor of its newspaper Friday, asking for more than $1 million in damages and an order barring the committee from opposing any candidates in a partisan primary.
He called the letter a "highly illegal witch hunt," which violates state laws prohibiting the party from supporting, endorsing or opposing candidates in a partisan primary.
Judge Warren Deering ruled that the letter was illegal and ordered that no similar mailings be repeated.
"In my opinion the letter . . . constitutes an opposition to a candidate," he said. "Even though (the candidates') names aren't set out, they are identified in such a manner that their names could be ascertained."
However, Deering ruled that the party can continue to publish and disseminate information about the "philosophy, backgrounds or platforms" of candidates in any partisan primary race, as long as the material does not oppose or support the candidates.
That aspect of the ruling will enable major party officials to continue publication of material telling voters which candidates are affiliated with the LaRouche group. That, Los Angeles County Democratic officials had stressed, was the major purpose of their newspaper's listing.
"In most cases, people cast uninformed votes for county committee," county Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Wallace said in an interview earlier in the week. "Every Democrat has the right to make an informed choice. We feel if voters are given the choice, they won't vote for LaRouche-backed candidates."
Democrats have been reeling since Illinois' March primary, when two LaRouche-backed candidates won Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Rather than run on the same ticket with those candidates, gubernatorial nominee Adlai E. Stevenson III resigned from the ticket and assailed LaRouche as a "neo-Nazi, a bizarre and dangerous extremist who espouses hate-filled folly."
A one-time member of the communist Socialist Workers Party, LaRouche, 64, organized a violence-prone faction of the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. The faction, the National Caucus of Labor Committees, later made a sharp swing to the political right and established ties with the Ku Klux Klan and the ultraconservative Liberty Lobby in 1974. It now supports causes such as nuclear power and President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars."
A federal grand jury in Boston is investigating what prosecutors allege is "a massive pattern of credit card fraud" stemming from complaints that the LaRouche organization made unauthorized use of credit cards belonging to people who had contributed to various LaRouche-related concerns.
Ghandhi, a candidate for the county Democratic Committee from the 55th Assembly District, makes no bones about the LaRouche organization's intentions:
"In the long run, we want to take over the Democratic Party," he said, adding that by "the long run," he is referring to the 1988 elections when LaRouche will make his fourth run for the presidency.
"They're not going to take over the party," Smith said, "but it's a little bit like saying a few Nazis around are not too bad, as long as they don't get too strong."
Election to the party's county committee is one route to a seat on the state central committee, and Democratic Party officials say that any LaRouche gains on those committees would give that group credibility it would not otherwise have to raise funds, for instance.
Moreover, the state committee determines the delegate selection process for presidential conventions, elects members to the Democratic National Committee and raises money to conduct voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, officials said.