Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) told an abortion-rights group to stop raising money for political flyers boosting his candidacy after the ads were questioned as a possible special-interest donation, his campaign manager said Tuesday.
The Times reported Monday that an official of the California Abortion Rights Action League said Beilenson's campaign asked her group to raise most of the $3,600 needed to put Beilenson's name on brochures CARAL mailed to 40,000 voters who favor legalized abortion.
Under federal law, the mailers could be considered a non-cash contribution by a special-interest political action committee, or PAC.
The deal with the abortion-rights league proved a political embarrassment to Beilenson, who has repeatedly touted his longstanding refusal to accept money from PACs, which represent businesses, labor unions and other special interests.
He is locked in a tight race with Republican Tom McClintock, a state assemblyman who relies heavily on PAC funding, in the 24th Congressional District.
Beilenson campaign manager Craig Miller said Tuesday that Beilenson's campaign returned three checks totaling $550 that CARAL supporters sent Beilenson and that other CARAL contributors who intended to donate were told not to.
Miller reiterated that Beilenson was unaware of the ad arrangement until it was brought to his attention Friday evening.
Miller blamed the incident on a "well-intentioned but . . . overzealous" campaign staffer who discussed fund raising for the flyer with Robin Schneider, associate director of CARAL PAC in Southern California.
"We haven't done anything wrong. It was entirely legal. A minor error was made by a campaign staffer and that minor error was immediately corrected," Miller said.
Schneider said Beilenson's office called her organization Friday, after he talked with The Times, and asked that his name be removed from the CARAL mailers.
She said he was dropped before the brochures were delivered to the post office Monday.
Asked Tuesday if she had any reaction, Schneider said: "It's his call."
Miller said CARAL originally offered to place Beilenson--a staunch abortion rights backer--on the flyers for free but that Miller declined the offer.
Later, CARAL met with a lower-level Beilenson staffer, who "suggested to the pro-choice people that they might want to help our campaign by encouraging their members to make individual contributions," Miller said. He declined to identify the staffer.
Miller stressed that there was nothing illegal about accepting funds from CARAL and the money was returned only because it violates Beilenson's personal policy of refusing PAC donations.
Beilenson is among the handful of members of Congress who do not take such funds.
Miller said he did not think Beilenson's campaign suffered any political damage from the episode.
"I think it remains clear to voters that there is one candidate in this race who abhors the growing influence of political action committees," he said. "That candidate is Tony Beilenson."
McClintock has repeatedly accused Beilenson of hypocrisy for taking campaign donations from individual lawyers, environmentalists and Hollywood figures, arguing that they constitute special-interest groups even though they are not technically PACs.
Schneider of CARAL said her group also has supplied volunteers to work at Beilenson phone banks and plans to deliver 75 abortion rights supporters to help pass out his campaign literature in the final days of the race.