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ELECTIONS: CITY COUNCIL : Mudslinging Gets Even Nastier as New Political Group Enters Fray : Politics: Rivals say Malibu Grassroots Movement, which opposes two incumbents, has been using 'McCarthy-like tactics.'

March 22, 1992|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — What had been a tag-team match between a few leading candidates vying for three seats on the Malibu City Council turned into a battle royal last week with most of the 20 contenders taking part.

But much of the negative energy in a nasty week of campaigning was directed at two people whose names won't even appear on the April 14 ballot, Councilman Walt Keller and Mayor Larry Wan.

A new group organized by a former campaign consultant to Wan took aim at the Malibu Grassroots Movement, labeling it "the Walt Keller political machine" and accusing its supporters of "McCarthy-like" tactics.

And in return, leaders of the Malibu Grassroots Movement, which uses the acronym MGM, lashed back at the newly formed Citizens United for a Stable Malibu, calling it a smoke screen for the mayor and his council allies, whom it accuses of being too cozy with development interests.

"Why is it that any time anyone disagrees with Larry (Wan) they are labeled either fascists, McCarthyites or racists?," MGM spokesman Tom Hasse said.

Citizens United for a Stable Malibu was organized by political consultant Joy Ellis and is co-chaired by Susan Reynolds, the former president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, and Ron Bloomfield, who ran for City Council in 1990.

MGM aims to unseat council members Mike Caggiano and Missy Zeitsoff, who, with Wan, represent a majority faction of the City Council. It has endorsed Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn and contenders Joan House and Jeff Kramer, all of whom also have been endorsed by Councilman Keller.

MGM has raised more than $15,000--much of it donated by a veritable Who's Who of entertainment executives who live in Malibu--to unseat Zeitsoff and Caggiano.

The latest salvos followed the disclosure by motion picture advertiser Brian Fox that he had given $4,000 of his time and plans to donate $6,000 worth of ad space in a Malibu newspaper to promote the three candidates endorsed by the Malibu Grassroots Movement.

The disclosure triggered an angry reaction from many of the other 17 candidates in the race, all but three of whom signed a petition last week accusing Fox, MGM and Keller of violating either state or city campaign finance laws.

As of late last week, the only candidates--in addition to the three candidates endorsed by MGM--who had not signed a petition circulated by candidate Paul Grisanti were Sam Birenbaum, C. J. Kraft and Jefferson (Zuma Jay) Wagner.

The petition signed by 14 of the candidates accused Fox and MGM of violating a city ordinance adopted in January that sets a $500 limit on individual contributions to candidates and committees that support candidates in municipal elections, whether in cash or some other form.

The document said that Keller may also have violated Malibu's $500 per candidate limit if he spent more than $1,500 on a newsletter he recently mailed to registered voters endorsing Van Horn, House and Kramer.

The 14 candidates requested that the alleged violations be referred to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

However, it was not at all clear late last week whether the targets of the petition had actually violated any law.

Except for special elections, state law sets no limits for campaign contributions.

Keller dismissed the allegation against him as "ridiculous," adding: "I think it shows their ignorance, and it certainly doesn't speak well for them as potential City Council members."

Keller said that he checked with state election officials twice before his own campaign committee sent the mailer, in order to make sure it was in keeping with the law. "Even if the city ordinance applied in my case--which it doesn't--we only spent a little more than $1,300 on the mailer," he said.

In the petition, the 14 candidates allege that MGM has spent $8,000 for ads on a Malibu cable channel promoting the candidacies of Van Horn, House and Kramer, which it contends is a violation of the $500 campaign limit.

Similarly, the document accuses Fox of violating the limit by offering $10,000 of in-kind contributions to the group, which opponents contend is tantamount to giving the money to the candidates themselves.

"If people who support the grass-roots movement wanted to support those candidates, they should be required to make contributions to the candidates themselves," Grisanti said.

Hasse, the MGM spokesman, called the petition "sour grapes from a bunch of candidates who can't raise any money because they don't have support in this community."

The City Council, toward the end of a nearly eight-hour session that lasted until 2 a.m. last Wednesday, unanimously directed City Atty. Michael Jenkins to review the allegations and, if he found violations, to refer them to the district attorney.

Jenkins declined to comment on any of the allegations late last week, saying he was not yet familiar with the details of either case.

BACKGROUND

The Malibu Grassroots Movement, or MGM, is a political action committee formed last October to oppose incumbents Missy Zeitsoff and Mike Caggiano. It aims to promote a new City Council majority to preserve Malibu's semi-rural character and take a tougher stance against development. Its president, TV game show announcer Gene Wood, and many of its key supporters have strong ties to council members Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn. Citizens United for a Stable Malibu formed two weeks ago, largely to thwart the efforts of MGM and an allied group, Malibu Citizens for Community Involvement. Citizens United organizer Joy Ellis, a professional campaign consultant, also helped set up two previous political action committees with links to Mayor Larry Wan.

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