SACRAMENTO — A consumers group has blasted former Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) for using a copy of his old state stationery--complete with the California seal--to solicit support for a political candidate.
Campbell's letter was sent out earlier this month, inviting 400 lobbyists to attend a breakfast fund-raiser Tuesday for State Board of Equalization candidate Jeff Wallack at a restaurant across the street from the Capitol.
The letter did not identify Campbell in his current capacity as president of the California Manufacturers Assn., a powerful business lobbying group whose members often have major cases pending before the board.
Instead, it was printed on an exact replica of state letterhead, identifying Campbell as "senator" and bearing the official seal under the words Senate, California Legislature. It did not mention that Campbell stepped down from the Senate last December, but did include a disclaimer at the bottom that the letter was "not printed at government's expense."
Despite the disclaimer, officials for the California chapter of the Consumers Union said that Campbell was "masquerading" as a public official, adding that the letter was just the latest example of the former legislator's treading on his past title.
"He's trying to remind people that he's big Bill Campbell and he carries a lot of weight in Sacramento," said Harry Snyder, director of the San Francisco office of the Consumers Union. "He's intentionally being confusing, holding himself out as a senator from California."
Campbell could not be reached for comment, and telephone calls to the California Manufacturers Association Assn. were not returned.
Wallack's campaign manager, however, accepted responsibility for the letter. He acknowledged that the campaign erred by not making it clear that Campbell is no longer a public official.
"We weren't trying to make it look like state stationery," said manager Pete Conaty, who authorized the Oct. 8 mailing and helped write the letter signed by Campbell. "We were not trying to imply that Bill Campbell was a state senator.
"I made a mistake by not putting 'former' state senator," Conaty said. "During the rush of the campaign, I neglected to put 'former' on there."
Cliff Berg, executive officer of the Senate Rules Committee, said that sitting senators often use mock state stationery during reelection campaigns. But, he said, there has been no ruling before on whether it is proper for a former legislator to use a replica of his old letterhead and the state seal.
The controversy over the letter is the latest surrounding Campbell's use of senatorial privilege since he decided to leave the Legislature last year to head up the state manufacturers' group. The Consumers Union sharply criticized him for unethical conduct after he held a press conference to announce his new job but refused to relinquish his Senate seat.
Campbell stayed in office several more weeks. During the time, he attended an emergency legislative session on earthquake aid and took a state-paid trip to New York City, where the itinerary included a museum tour, Broadway plays and meetings with executives from firms holding membership in the manufacturers' organization.
Even after he left, the controversy has continued, especially since Campbell declines to register as a lobbyist. Last month, the Consumers Union accused Campbell of lobbying when, invoking his privilege as a former legislator, he decided to roam the Senate and Assembly chambers during the debate of a controversial bill regarding corporate liability. The manufacturers were strongly opposed to the bill, which was backed by the Consumers Union.
Senate leaders dismissed the Consumers Union complaint, however, explaining that all Campbell did was make small talk and jokes.
Snyder of the Consumers Union said the letter is another example of Campbell's deceit.
"I think Bill Campbell is trying to fool people, and that's why he's using this designation" on the letter, Snyder said. "I think he's trying to fool people in saying that he wasn't lobbying on the floor of the Senate and the Assembly."
Conaty said it was the Wallack campaign that first approached Campbell and the manufacturers' group for help in its attempt to unseat incumbent Board of Equalization member William Bennett, who is being investigated for falsifying state expense reports.
When the campaign learned that the manufacturers' association doesn't endorse candidates, Conaty said, Campbell agreed to sign a letter on a replica of his old office stationery.
"The aim was to get people here, and that it was an invitation from former Sen. Bill Campbell, not Bill Campbell down the street," he said, accepting responsibility for any misunderstanding.
Conaty, who is on half-time leave from the Assembly Republican Caucus to run the Wallack campaign, also said the one-page letter was not intended as a way to get around a manufacturers' association ban on endorsements. The RSVP phone number is to a fund-raiser working for the Wallack campaign.