The campaign of Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) responded to opponent Anita Perez Ferguson's call for "ethical and responsible leadership" in campaign fund-raising by zinging her for falsely claiming an endorsement by the Sierra Club.
In a letter released Thursday, Reb Wayne, Lagomarsino's campaign manager, ignored a challenge by the Democrat to limit campaign spending to $400,000 apiece as a symbolic rejection of the influence of special interests in politics.
Wayne wrote that he could not take Ferguson's challenge seriously because her campaign released it to the newspapers before the congressman could respond. "I believe this makes your true intention quite obvious--an attempt to grab a headline," Wayne wrote.
As a parting shot, Wayne wrote that it was difficult to reconcile Ferguson's call for ethical leadership with the false claim in her campaign literature that her candidacy has been endorsed by the Sierra Club.
"I think it is highly unethical to make such a false claim," Wayne said Thursday. "If this was simply an error, it is still a point that you cannot overlook. If candidates cannot manage their campaigns, how on earth are they going to manage a congressional office?"
Sam Rodriguez, Ferguson's campaign manager, acknowledged the error in one piece of campaign literature distributed at the Santa Maria fairgrounds.
"That literature was a typo mistake by an intern," Rodriguez said. "Only 200 copies were printed and placed at a table by an intern at the county fair. It was pulled right away and is no longer in circulation."
Bob Hattoy, a Sierra Club regional director in Los Angeles, said he has scolded Rodriquez about the erroneous campaign literature.
"They haven't been endorsed, but I don't think the Ferguson campaign should be beaten up for distributing literature about an endorsement that they think is forthcoming," Hattoy said.
To gain the endorsement of the Sierra Club, the largest environmental group in the nation with 400,000 members, a congressional candidate must win a two-thirds vote of members of the closest Sierra Club chapter and then a two-thirds vote of the club's national political committee in Washington.
Hattoy said the club's Los Padres chapter in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties has recommended that the national political committee endorse Ferguson's candidacy. But he said the national office will not take up the matter for another two weeks.
Betsy Loyless, the club's assistant political director in Washington, said the Sierra Club has "never endorsed Lagomarsino because he has a poor environmental record."
In 1988, the Sierra Club endorsed Lagomarsino's opponent, state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), and contributed $10,000 to his campaign. Ferguson, a former aide to Hart, announced her candidacy this year after Hart decided not to again challenge Lagomarsino.
Neither Loyless nor Hattoy would speculate on whether the Sierra Club would endorse Ferguson or contribute money to her campaign.
So far, Lagomarsino has far outpaced Ferguson in raising campaign contributions. As of June 30, he had raised $135,744 this year, bringing his total cash on hand to $151,343.
Ferguson, a political newcomer, has struggled to match the fund-raising prowess of Lagomarsino or her former employer, Hart. Her June 30 finance reports show that she has raised $32,183 so far this year but has only $5,205 in cash.
Fund-raising in this year's race starkly contrasts with that in the 1988 race for the 19th Congressional District, which straddles Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Then, Hart raised and spent $1.6 million; Lagomarsino, $1.5 million. Their congressional contest was the most expensive in the nation.