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California Elections: The Ad Campaign

June 01, 1990| Elements of the ads, with analysis by Times political writer Cathleen Decker

The race: Governor. Whose ads?: Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

Dianne Feinstein began airing on Thursday an attack on Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp's handling of the Hillside Strangler murder case. She also will air a second ad on other Van de Kamp actions during his tenure as Los Angeles County district attorney and as attorney general.

Elements of the ads, with analysis by Times political writer Cathleen Decker:

Ad: The advertisement opens with a picture of Van de Kamp and the date, July 13, 1981. The picture fades out, but the date remains, and over it is heard Van de Kamp's voice: "At this point there is insufficient evidence to file." A narrator adds: "The day John Van de Kamp tried to drop murder charges against the Hillside Strangler."

A picture of Angelo Buono, convicted in nine of the 10 murders with which he was later charged, is shown. Later, there is a videotape of Buono being led down a hall in handcuffs and film of a wrapped body being carried on a stretcher up a hillside.

"The man who raped and murdered 10 women and terrorized Los Angeles," the narrator says. "And today, almost a decade later, in the midst of a political campaign John Van de Kamp, who still opposes the death penalty, and takes contributions from the Hillside Strangler lawyers, finally admits he made a mistake. Make sure you don't make one on Tuesday, June 5."

Analysis: The advertisement refers to Van de Kamp's actions when he served as district attorney of Los Angeles County. In 1981, a year before Van de Kamp was elected attorney general, his office handled the case of Angelo Buono. Buono's cousin, Kenneth Bianchi, pleaded guilty to five murders and implicated Buono. But, according to Van de Kamp and his fellow prosecutors, Bianchi then began changing his story. Van de Kamp said he was worried that if he tried Buono at that time, Buono might not be convicted and could never be retried because of the protections against double jeopardy.

According to Van de Kamp, he and his staff decided to prosecute Buono on the sex charges and drop the murder charges until more information could be turned up to bolster the case. But Superior Court Judge Ronald M. George refused to dismiss the counts and turned the case over to then-Atty. Gen. George Deukmejian, whose prosecutors secured convictions on nine of the 10 murder counts.

Van de Kamp has said throughout the campaign that he made a mistake in handling the case. He also asked that he be judged by his entire record--during his tenure as district attorney, 42 criminals were sent to Death Row; since he has been attorney general, 277 have remained on Death Row.

Although Van de Kamp personally opposes the death penalty, he has vowed to enforce it as governor. He has said he will not commute death sentences unless there is compelling evidence that the inmate is innocent.

The ad describes Buono as having committed 10 murders; actually, he was convicted of nine.

The attorney mentioned in the ad donated about $100 to Van de Kamp in 1990, nine years after Van de Kamp handled the case.

Ad: "John Van de Kamp is spending a million dollars of trial lawyers' money on negative advertising, but how much do you know about his record?"

Analysis: The number refers to Van de Kamp's receipt of about $1 million in campaign donations from lawyers. While the Van de Kamp campaign acknowledges that lawyers have been generous to Van de Kamp, they point out that he has been a lawyer for 30 years and has innumerable acquaintances in the field. The Van de Kamp campaign also draws a distinction between the trial lawyers--the politically vociferous group which has banded together on a number of state issues in recent years--and their donors, who they said represent varied fields of law.

Ad: "Did you know he tried to drop murder charges against the Hillside Strangler? And he opposes the death penalty and called it barbaric?"

Analysis: As recounted above, Van de Kamp said he agreed to temporarily dismiss murder charges against Angelo Buono because he feared that the case against him was weak. Van de Kamp said he wanted to move ahead with sex charges lodged against Buono while investigators sought more evidence on the murder counts.

Van de Kamp does oppose the death penalty personally--as Feinstein once did--but insists that he will enforce the law. He also said he will not join in any effort to overthrow the current death penalty law and considers the issue closed.

Ad: "Did you know that five times he defended Gov. Deukmejian's attempts to deny poor women Medi-Cal abortions? And twice defended Deukmejian's attempts to cut family planning funds?"

Analysis: Van de Kamp did defend the Deukmejian Administration's veto of abortion and family planning funds. But he said he did so because of his constitutional responsibility, as the state's legal representative, to defend it regardless of his personal beliefs. Van de Kamp, during the campaign and beforehand, has backed such funding.

Van de Kamp has refused on occasion to defend the governor, but said he did so only when he felt there was no appropriate legal defense.

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