A federal jury preparing to deliberate the fate of a Los Angeles businessman charged with illegally trying to financially engineer the defeat of a U.S. Senate candidate heard him accused Thursday of being a man engaged in "stealth and deception" and defended as a respected philanthropist.
Michael R. Goland, long active in backing candidates who support Israel, recognized that his secret attempt to win reelection for Democrat Alan Cranston could have "disastrous consequences" for Cranston if discovered during his neck-and-neck race with Ed Zschau, Assistant U.S. Atty. George Newhouse said in his closing argument to the jury.
Goland embarked on a campaign of "stealth and deception" to conceal from voters that it was really a Cranston supporter who was paying $120,000 for the widely broadcast television commercial on behalf of American Independent Party candidate Edward Vallen, soliciting 55 straw donors to act as conduits for the money, Newhouse said.
"If the public had learned what Mr. Goland was doing in California in the fall of '86, it would have hurt Sen. Cranston, and because Cranston was strong on Israel, it would have hurt Israel," Newhouse told jurors. "Mr. Goland had no intention of being publicly tied to this campaign to defeat Mr. Zschau."
Goland, 41, who had engaged in a successful 1984 campaign in Illinois that helped defeat former Republican Sen. Charles Percy, has said he intended to mount a similar campaign in California under laws that make it legal for third parties to front independent expenditures on behalf of a political cause.
But his lawyer, in a heated argument to the jury, declared that Goland had been betrayed by the aides he had hired to carry out the campaign, who he said took the money for the commercial and made it look as though it were an illegal contribution to Vallen, rather than an independent expenditure.
The young Washington campaign consultant he hired to manage the effort, Colleen Morrow, turned into "the daughter of Frankenstein" and began giving Goland orders, defense lawyer Nathan Lewin asserted.
Lewin emphasized that Goland never stood to benefit from his donations on behalf of Cranston, who allegedly did not know about the effort and, in fact, dispatched his aides to talk Goland out of even a legal independent expenditure effort, according to court testimony.
"What is this case? It is a criminal charge against a man for giving away his money the wrong way," Lewin said. "Why would a respected philanthropist who has been known throughout the community for supporting charities, giving away millions of dollars for society's good, commit criminal acts?"
Through nearly four weeks of testimony in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the government has attempted to portray Goland as an arrogant political mastermind who had emerged from a host of Federal Elections Commission complaints stemming from the Ohio campaign with a single $5,000 fine.
Despite pleas from both Cranston and the White House to avoid a similar campaign in California, Goland was spurred on by polls that showed Cranston and Zschau in a virtual dead heat as the November election approached, witnesses said.
In the end, Vallen emerged with 110,000 votes.
The defense presented only four witnesses, and Goland did not testify. But Lewin said the case did not warrant a lengthier defense.
"This case is so full of dozens, hundreds of reasonable doubts, that it's incredible that we're here at this point," he said.
Newhouse argued that Goland's claim to have thought that he was running an independent expenditure campaign was not believable. He said it would have been illegal to have used Vallen in the commercial if it were being funded as an independent expenditure. Moreover, Goland never filed the required reports with the Federal Elections Commission for an independent expenditure, Newhouse said.
But Lewin countered that it also makes no sense to believe that Goland was deliberately trying to break the law. If he were as expert on election laws as the government claims, Lewin said, he would never have asked his cohorts to collect checks from straw donors ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, when he knew that federal law limits legitimate individual donations to $1,000.
Goland is charged with a total of five counts of conspiracy to violate federal election laws, causing false reports to be made to the FEC, making excessive contributions to a candidate and making a contribution under the name of another. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 17 years in prison and a $1-million fine.
The jury was to begin deliberating this morning.