SACRAMENTO — Citing a legislative counsel's opinion that the mailing of an unauthorized presidential endorsement letter would be illegal, Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) has urged prosecution of those responsible for phony presidential endorsement letters sent out last year on behalf of six GOP Assembly candidates.
Steve White, chief assistant state attorney general, said Monday that his office is reviewing whether "a crime was committed and do we have the complete facts" in the mailing of all six letters.
After the letters were mailed--including one supporting Tanner's Republican opponent, Henry Velasco--the White House denied that the so-called presidential endorsements were authorized by President Reagan or any of his aides.
The White House also singled out two aides to Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale and a GOP direct-mail specialist for being "grossly negligent or recklessly indifferent" in the preparation of the letters.
Ever since the election, Tanner and other lawmakers who were targets of the letters have sought without success to persuade law enforcement officials to conduct a full investigation.
The legal opinion by Bion M. Gregory, who serves as lawyer for the Democratic-controlled Legislature, is the first sign that Tanner and her colleagues could have a legal case.
Tanner sought Gregory's opinion months ago but it was not completed until Oct. 1. The Times obtained a copy of the confidential opinion Monday.
Without commenting specifically on the letters sent out last fall, Gregory said, "The sending of a letter by someone other than the President of the United States, which purports to be from the President, urging the election of an individual to the Assembly, would be either a misdemeanor or a felony under state law and an offense under federal law. . . ."
In Gregory's view, the organizers could be prosecuted under state statutes that prohibit the false portrayal of another person. Or, he said, they could be charged under federal codes that allow for prosecution of anyone who "falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer acting under the authority of the United States. . . ."
In a letter to Democratic Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp on Oct. 7, Tanner said, "In light of this opinion, I would strongly urge prosecution of . . . individuals who were responsible for the development and publication" of the letter sent out for Velasco. In an interview, she said she also wanted an investigation into preparation of the other five letters.
Besides Velasco, the Reagan endorsement letters were sent on behalf of three winning GOP Assembly candidates--Bev Hansen of Napa, Richard E. Longshore of Santa Ana and Trice Harvey of Bakersfield.
They were also mailed on behalf of Republicans Matt Webb, who lost to Assemblyman Steve Clute of Riverside, and Roger Fiola, who lost to Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd of Hawthorne.
The most controversial letters were those sent out for Fiola. They endorsed Fiola and also assailed Floyd's record in the Assembly. On Monday, Floyd said, "I cannot figure out why elected law enforcement officials, who are concerned with campaign reform . . . have not filed criminal charges" against GOP campaign workers responsible for the letters.
Anne S. Richards, Nolan's press secretary, said the Assembly GOP leader would have no comment on the legislative counsel's opinion.