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GOP Fears Legislature Computer Will Be a Campaign Tool, Seeks Probe

November 26, 1986|DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Controversy over a new multimillion-dollar computer system for the Legislature spilled into the partisan arena Tuesday when the Republican Party called on state and federal prosecutors to investigate allegations that the system might be designed to compile political mailing lists.

GOP Chairman Clair Burgener--announcing a resolution by the GOP board of directors asking for separate investigations by the attorney general, the U.S. attorney and the Fair Political Practices Commission--charged that the system was being put together by the staff of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and that one contract was being steered to a company partially owned by the wife of a Brown legislative ally.

Electronic Dossiers

The latter allegation involves the San Fernando Valley computer programming firm, Data + Imagination Inc., which is 25% owned by Marlene Bane, the wife of Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Tarzana).

The Assembly Rules Committee is considering the purchase of a program produced by that firm to enable lawmakers to compile electronic dossiers on individual voters using various public records.

By using the program, which relies on records sold by public agencies, legislators could determine whether a constituent is a Republican, Democrat or independent and whether he or she is married. The lawmakers could know whether the voter owns his or her own home and, if so, how much it is worth. They could obtain a variety of other information such as the kind of car a constituent drives, whether that constituent has ever contributed money to a political campaign or received a traffic ticket.

A brochure put out by the firm advertises: "Know them and you've won their vote." The company said the program will turn "numbers into people," declaring: "It can be done. Statistics and empty faces can be transformed into real people. At the touch of a button you can know everything important about your relationship to individual constituents."

Burgener, a former legislator and congressman, said during a telephone interview, "I am very fearful that we are moving into Big Brother kind of government. In my own 24 years in office, I never considered it my business to know the age, sex or voting record of constituents who called my office with a problem. I just want someone to take a good hard look at it."

The resolution calling for formal investigations of the computer proposal was passed by the state Republican Party's board of directors Saturday. The board suggested that the computers could make it difficult for challengers to unseat incumbent legislators.

Bane and his wife are traveling in South America and were unavailable for comment.

Last week, during an interview with The Times, Mike Shulem, founder of the company, confirmed that Marlene Bane owned a 25% share of the firm. But he said that to avoid a conflict of interest, legal rights and ownership of the computer program, called VoteTech, were transferred to another company, Monarch Constituent Services, in which Marlene Bane has no interest.

Shulem said his company, Computer + Imagination, has been losing money for four years and that Marlene Bane has not received a dividend, salary or other financial consideration from the firm.

Shulem said campaign committees for several lawmakers had already bought his program. He confirmed press reports that Bane and Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) are among those who have already bought the programs.

The Republican broadside came a day before the Assembly Rules Committee is expected to award a computer hardware contract for the new automated computer system to Digital Equipment Corp. Bane, who reportedly will not be present for the vote, will take over as Rules Committee chairman when the new Legislature reconvenes in December. Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae), who was defeated in the November election in a bid to move from the Assembly to the Senate, currently heads the committee. The Senate Rules Committee awarded its computer contract to Digital in July.

The dispute developed from efforts to dramatically expand the Legislature's office automation system by creating computer links between the Capitol and legislative district offices.

Proposals call for a state-of-the-art computer capability for each of the 40 Senate and 80 Assembly offices.

Bidding for the hardware contracts involved IBM, Honeywell, Data General and Digital.

The controversy began Oct. 22 when an executive of Data General wrote an angry letter to members of the Legislature saying the contract was being "engineered" to Digital despite a report recommending that the contract be awarded to his firm for price and technical reasons.

In urging legislators to take a second look at the issue, Gerald Beeks, senior sales representative for Data General, contended that lawmakers were about to make "a mistake." He said his system would cost $3.4 million less than Digital's.

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