A mysterious group calling itself the American Council for a Conservative Consensus has sent last-minute "hit" mail aimed at C. Christopher Cox and C. David Baker, who along with Nathan Rosenberg are front-runners in the 40th Congressional District Republican primary.
A third piece of mail, a disparaging letter aimed at Cox that apparently was sent to only a handful of people, has prompted a request from the Anaheim-based California Coalition for Traditional Values for an investigation by the FBI and the Postal Inspector's Office.
The letter was on photocopies of the coalition's stationery, but leaders of the group say they know nothing about it. The federal agencies had no immediate comment on whether they would investigate.
One of the two hit mailers bearing the name of the American Council for a Conservative Consensus raises questions about Baker's marital fidelity, and the other accuses Cox of being a Communist. Both have been distributed to thousands of homes in the 40th District.
Fights Fire With Fire
Cox, a Newport Beach lawyer, denied the charges in the mailer by making an absurd allegation of his own.
"I am absolutely certain that the people who are saying this are extraterrestrials, and I think my charge has all the validity of theirs," Cox said in an interview at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, where retired Lt. Col. Oliver North gave a speech Thursday endorsing his candidacy.
Baker, an Irvine city councilman, was unavailable for comment Thursday. But his political consultant, Frank Caterinicchio, said: "I've been involved in political campaigns in Orange County for 10 years, and I've seen a lot of negative mail. But I've never, ever seen anything like this."
"This is way below the belt," added Carlos Rodriguez, campaign consultant for Cox. "It's worse than crawling out of a rock. It's more than desperation tactics. It's vulgar. And the person behind this will have to face the consequences. We're finding out who is behind it right now."
Although Rosenberg was not targeted, his aides denounced the mailers.
"Our position has been that that stuff is really not relevant to the campaign debate that goes on," said Rosenberg campaign consultant Dave Vaporean.
North, likewise, denounced the use of false accusations.
"False and deceptive mailings in a campaign have no part in our political process," North said during his speech at Orange Coast College. "Those are the kind of things that happen in a political campaign that truly give democracy a bad name and they have no part in Orange County . . . or anywhere else in America."
Postal records show that Arthur M. Jackson of Phoenix applied for a bulk mailing permit on May 23 in Santa Ana on behalf of the American Council for a Conservative Consensus.
Jackson could not be reached for comment Thursday on whether he was affiliated with any political group in Orange County, and no one contacted in local political circles had heard of him. Jackson listed a Newport Beach location as the address of the organization, but that location is a post office box.
No one answered the door Thursday at Jackson's home address in Phoenix. Neighbors in the 16-unit condominium project said he has lived there since 1986.
Representatives of the Cox and Baker campaigns said they were looking into possible illegalities in the mailings by the American Council for a Conservative Consensus.
According to postal records, Jackson spent $120 on behalf of the council when he applied for the bulk mailing permit.
No one filed a campaign expenditure form on behalf of the council with the Federal Election Commission within the ensuing 10-day period as prescribed by law, federal officials said Thursday. Nor has anyone taken out organizational papers with the California secretary of state's office within the prescribed 10 days after a campaign expenditure, state officials said.
Under state law, failure to file organizational papers is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Failure to report a campaign expenditure in a federal race is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
The Baker mailer renewed allegations of marital infidelity that were raised several weeks ago by an anonymous man at a candidate forum in Newport Beach. Baker has never directly responded to the charge.
"How do you explain allegations of a sexual affair with another married woman and cheating on your wife to your family, friends and the voters who you are asking to trust you?" the mailer asked. "Ask Dave Baker."
The Cox mailer bearing the name of the Council for a Conservative Consensus showed a picture of Cox with a hammer and sickle in the background. It accused Cox of espousing Communist propaganda by using his business to translate into English the Soviet newspaper Pravda.
"American school children, thanks to Christopher Cox, are exposed to the lies, distortions and mind-bending views of the world that Communist propaganda so cleverly manufactures," the mailer charges.