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Illegal Hiring Issue Heats Up for Huffington

October 29, 1994|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN FRANCISCO — Seizing on Republican challenger Mike Huffington's admission that he hired an illegal immigrant, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took the offensive Friday with a new round of ads questioning whether voters can believe or trust the Santa Barbara congressman.

"Politician Michael Huffington talks tough about illegal immigrants but now Huffington admits that for years he employed an illegal immigrant at his home," says a Feinstein radio spot. ". . . And what else don't we Californians know about Michael Huffington?"

The advertising attack got under way as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Internal Revenue Service indicated that they will look into possible violations of the law based on Huffington's statement that he employed a nanny illegally and did not pay all required taxes.

IRS spokesman Keith Kimball said he could not discuss any specific case but added, "When there is a public admission, it's not something we're going to ignore."

Huffington, campaigning in Santa Barbara late Friday, seemed to compound his problems by admitting that his household might have employed more than one illegal immigrant, although he said he was not certain.

"I am saying I don't know," Huffington told reporters. "But if there were, my wife, remember, was in charge. I take responsibility, though, for anything. That's the bottom line."

Recent polls have shown Huffington and Feinstein in a close race in the Senate contest, which has set spending records and been dominated by negative television commercials.

Throughout the day, the Feinstein campaign highlighted what it contended was Huffington's hypocrisy, at one point noting that he co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill last year that would have made it a crime punishable by five years in prison to transport an illegal immigrant across state lines. The Times has reported that the Huffingtons took their illegal nanny to Washington after he was elected to Congress.

Asked about the bill during an appearance at a GOP campaign office in Santa Barbara, Huffington drew a blank. "What legislation did I propose?" he asked. Reminded of the details, he asked, "It hasn't passed, has it?"

During the same exchange with reporters, the candidate was asked whether he had employed the nanny's husband, who also was in the country illegally. After saying he did not know, Huffington added:

"The bottom line is I take responsibility, that's the bottom line," he said, repeating the phrase several times.

"For what?" a reporter finally interrupted.

"For anything that my wife may have done that has to do with illegal immigrants. I take full responsibility."

" . . . You take responsibility because you knew it was going on?" another reporter asked.

"No, because I am the husband," Huffington said.

Shortly afterward, the candidate's wife, Arianna Huffington, said the nanny's husband was never an employee but did run errands for the household.

"There was nobody else," she said. "Marisela's (the nanny's) husband sometimes would go buy things from Vons. But he was never on payroll. He always had another full-time job," she said.

At a campaign appearance in San Francisco, Feinstein told reporters it was hard for her to tell whether the illegal nanny issue would affect the race, but she noted that other public figures, such as attorney general nominee Zoe Baird, have been rejected because of similar actions.

"I think people feel very strongly about this and even more, it's a violation of federal law," the senator said. "If employer sanctions are going to work, then people have to understand that and follow them."

Her campaign began running new ads that pick up on the theme that Huffington is a candidate who cannot be trusted. Noting Huffington's admission that he did pay not all the required taxes for the nanny, the radio commercial says, "We don't even know whether Congressman Huffington has paid any California income taxes at all. Why not? Because he won't show us his tax returns. Huffington hires illegal immigrants--illegally. And Huffington refuses to disclose his tax returns."

Both the television and radio spots cite a story in The Times on Thursday reporting that the Huffingtons hired the illegal nanny to look after their children for more than four years, ending in August, 1993, more than six months after Huffington was sworn into Congress.

"On illegal immigration, can we Californians trust Congressman Huffington?" both ads say. "Can we believe him?"

In response to the Feinstein ads, Huffington campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Grossman said, "I think that again and again rather than taking on the real immigration issue and the real tax issue, namely her compulsive vote for higher taxes, she continually returns to the personal in an attempt to distract attention from her pathetic record."

On Friday, the Labor Department released 62 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing how Arianna Huffington, the candidate's wife, attempted to win legal status for the nanny in 1990 and 1991.

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