Rep. Robert E. Badham's Congressional Campaign Committee has formally apologized for a statement in a campaign mailer last spring that claimed a San Francisco corporation's self-awareness training program was "a mind control group like that of Jonestown and the Baghwan Rajneesh."
Badham's attorney, Darryl Wold, said Thursday that the campaign committee now concedes that it should make a legal apology and retraction for the statement because "the sources our research people relied on did not fairly support the statement." Badham, a five-term Republican congressman from Newport Beach, was on a House Armed Services Committee trip to the Philippines and could not be reached for comment.
Announcement of the apology was made by Sharon Spaulding, public information director for Werner Erhard & Associates, a San Francisco firm that leads self-awareness courses.
Badham's statement came during his battle for the Republican nomination with 33-year-old management consultant Nathan Rosenberg. Badham eventually fought off Rosenberg's strong challenge, but during the campaign Rosenberg's brother, Werner Erhardt, and Erhardt's firm, called est, were attacked by Badham.
In campaign interviews with reporters, Badham repeatedly called est a cult and linked Rosenberg to it. And in late May, a campaign mailer sent to 130,000 Republican homes in the 40th Congressional District called Rosenberg, who had led his brother's seminars, "a leader in est, a mind-control group like that of Jonestown and the Baghwan Rajneesh."
Program Retired in 1984
Erhardt and the est self-awareness seminars gained a following around the world from 1971 to 1984. "Nearly 500,000 people from 132 countries participated in the est training before it was retired in 1984," Spaulding said Thursday.
Rosenberg, in a May 28 press conference about the mailer, called it libelous. And Spaulding said that a lawyer from Erhard & Associates immediately began talking to Badham's attorney.
Spaulding on Thursday stopped short of calling the statement libelous. But she said: "From our standpoint, the statement was untrue, and we considered it a wrongdoing and we considered it necessary to request that retraction on behalf of the people who participated in the est training and the people who participated (on the staff of) Werner & Associates."
In its legal retraction and apology, the Badham Congressional Campaign Committee stated that "Werner Erhardt & Associates strongly insisted the statement was untrue, that it is not supported by any reliable source, that the est training had no similarity to the organizations mentioned and that the est training made a positive contribution to the participants in such programs.
"In view of these responses and in the interest of avoiding any further controversy over that statement," the statement continued, "the Badham Congressional Campaign Committee retracts that statement at the request of Congressman Badham and confirms that it no longer believes that the sources on which it relied in making that statement credibly support such statement and apologizes to the organization which delivered est training and to the people who participated in the est training for having made that statement."
Spaulding said that one of the points in the agreement was not only that Badham's committee would apologize but that "we could make that statement public."