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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Feinstein Calls New Huffington Ad 'Distortion' : The commercial accuses senator of voting on education bills that benefit husband's investments. She trumpets backing of another law officer group.


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday trumpeted the endorsement of another police officers organization while outlining her support for various tough-on-crime measures to an attentive high school classroom in the San Fernando Valley.

The Democratic incumbent also took aim at her Republican opponent, Mike Huffington, for his latest--and most controversial--campaign commercial to date. The ad, which began running statewide Monday night, accuses Feinstein of improperly voting on education bills that benefited a company whose largest shareholder is a firm owned by her husband, investor Richard Blum.

"Not only is he trying to buy his way into the Senate, but he is going to lie his way into the Senate too," Feinstein said at an appearance at James Monroe High School in North Hills. "And this is just one more lie and distortion in a long chain of lies and distortions."

Her husband, in a teleconference hours later, could not hide his outrage at the ad and at Huffington, a freshman Santa Barbara congressman who is spending a record amount in trying to unseat Feinstein.

"All I can think of is this is a kid who with his daddy's money . . . is arrogant and has always gotten his own way by putting dollars on the table and that is what he is trying to do here," Blum told reporters.

Huffington's campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Grossman, responded: "Obviously Mr. Blum is upset that we have exposed this cozy little deal. But the fact of the matter is that it is the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts."

The Huffington commercial illustrates the bruising nature of the Senate race, which at more than $27 million is already the costliest in U.S. history with two weeks before Election Day.

In the ad, Huffington says that Feinstein voted for bills that provided more than $100 million to National Education Corp., the Irvine-based corporation in which her husband is a shareholder.

But Feinstein said that she voted for the two appropriations bills that included more than $2 billion for federal student loans. "There was nothing . . . that in any way, shape or form referred directly or indirectly to NEC. The money goes to students," she told reporters.

Huffington fiercely defended the commercial at a Sacramento news conference.

". . . Mr. Blum can invest his money wherever he wants. It is Mrs. Feinstein's vote that I am concerned about," the congressman said. "She knows that she has an interest in that. She receives income from NEC. It is just plain wrong to vote for funding, federal funding, and all she had to do was recuse herself from those votes."

Huffington again complained that Feinstein ran an attack ad that said Huffington's company "stiffed taxpayers for millions" and that he refuses to release his tax returns. Although Huffington has declined to release those records, the supposed millions of dollars owed to taxpayers were part of a lawsuit filed by the state Franchise Tax Board against a Huffington subsidiary. That lawsuit was dismissed by a judge.

"For the last month, Mrs. Feinstein has been saying that I owe taxes. She's lying," Huffington told reporters.

"And, guess what?" he said later, "Her ad . . . says we owe it today in the present tense. We do not owe a penny of taxes. We pay all of our taxes."

But his remark touched off a brief exchange with reporters.

"How do we know that if you won't release your tax (returns)?" a reporter asked.

"Because you have to trust somebody. Obviously, I hope you trust me. I will tell you something, . . ." Huffington said.

"Excuse me," a reporter interrupted, "but why should we trust you?"

"Well, because I'll tell you what. The American people trust me," Huffington said, predicting California voters will elect him Nov. 8.

Earlier, Feinstein added to her list of endorsements from law enforcement groups--and labor unions representing peace officers--when she was supported by the 10,000-member California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen.

Krikorian reported from Los Angeles and Ingram from Sacramento.

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