After weeks of non-contact campaigning, the Republican primary in the 40th Congressional District turned combative this week as C. Christopher Cox leveled an attack on Nathan Rosenberg.
In a political circular mailed to 110,000 GOP voters in the district, Rosenberg is accused of distorting his job record and concealing his ties to his brother, est founder Werner Erhard.
The four-page mailer, with "beware" in big red type on the cover, describes Rosenberg as an "est advocate" and quotes a recent magazine article in which Erhard's programs are called "destructive cults." It also accused Rosenberg's wife, Claire, of being an est promoter.
The circular, which voters began receiving Thursday, was paid for by Cox's campaign committee. Cox and Rosenberg are among the front-runners in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
In an interview Thursday, Rosenberg blasted Cox for "bringing his family into the campaign," adding, "I'm the one running for Congress, not my brother."
Erhard, whose name once was Jack Rosenberg, was considered one of the leaders of the "human potential" movement of the '70s. He founded the self-awareness training program known as est. Nearly 500,000 people participated in est training before the program was ended in 1984.
Erhard's lastest program is the Forum. He is also involved in the World Hunger Project.
In anticipation of a mailer such as the one by Cox, Erhard's San Francisco-based company, Werner Erhard & Associates, took out advertisements in Thursday's editions of The Times and Orange County Register explaining the company's programs and goals. The ads described the firm as a "dynamic, evolutionary think tank for cutting-edge programs" designed to improve self-confidence and communication skills.
The newspaper ads, a company spokeswoman said, were "placed to offset any negative publicity" for Erhard or his programs that might result from Rosenberg's campaign.
Two years ago, in a heated primary fight with Rosenberg, Badham described Erhard's est program as a "mind-control group," likening it to the cults of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Rev. Jim Jones. After his reelection, Badham formally apologized for the remarks.
Throughout his campaign this year, Rosenberg has acknowledged that since 1986 he has served as seminar leader in the Forum, lecturing on such topics as leadership, commitment and productivity. He angrily dismissed allegations raised in the mailer that his brother's programs are subversive or cultlike.
"That's ridiculous," said Rosenberg, adding that Cox is "preying upon people's lack of knowledge . . . and frightening them." He said Cox is doing "exactly what he is accusing me of, dealing in untruths and innuendoes. It's clear he's an expert at cheap shots."
Cox could not be reached for comment Thursday because he was ill, campaign aides said.
But Carlos Rodriguez, Cox's Sacramento political consultant, said the mailer was produced to expose "Rosenberg's campaign tactics of concealment and distortion." He denied that it was an attack on Erhard or his programs, adding, "We just wanted to tell the voter to be wary of anything Nathan Rosenberg says."
Accused of Deceit
The mailer accuses Rosenberg of deceiving voters about what he did when he worked in Washington. In the late 1970s, Rosenberg worked in the Carter Administration for Defense Secretary Harold Brown and later for Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). The mailer says Rosenberg has passed himself off as a "defense adviser" to Brown and questions why Rosenberg worked for Byrd, Democratic Sen. "Ted Kennedy's pal and one of President Reagan's biggest critics."
Rosenberg said he has never represented himself as a defense adviser to Brown. He said he was in charge of handling mail and overseas cables for the secretary.
And, he said, he took the job in Byrd's office because "there were no openings" with Republican lawmakers at the time and "I wanted to gain some experience."
Rosenberg's links to his brother's organization were a major issue in the '86 race, when about a quarter of the volunteers in Rosenberg's campaign were from est or the Forum.
This time around, a "number of people" who have met and listened to Rosenberg lecture in Erhard seminars are among the campaign's 1,200 volunteers, said David Vaporean, Rosenberg's political consultant.