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Huffington Campaign Shows Signs of Strain : Politics: Candidate cancels appearance amid new hiring controversy. Couple will offer to pay any fines.

October 30, 1994|DAVE LESHER and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Reeling from disclosures that he employed an illegal immigrant, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington canceled another campaign appearance Saturday amid new allegations of improper hiring and prepared television commercials to respond to the controversy.

Huffington surfaced briefly in an interview on a Santa Barbara television station and also phoned in to a Los Angeles radio talk show. Asked in the radio interview how his campaign against incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein was going, Huffington said, "Frankly, it's going very well, even with (the) hiccup that we just went through."

Elsewhere, Huffington's wife and father fanned out to speak for the campaign, battered by the revelation in The Times last week that Huffington had employed an illegal immigrant to care for his daughters for more than four years.

Huffington's wife, Arianna, telephoned Southern California reporters and did a live interview with Los Angeles television station KCBS Channel 2, trying to dispel a report published Saturday in the Santa Barbara News-Press that the family had briefly employed two other illegal immigrants.

"I can categorically say there was never an illegal immigrant hired by me other than Marisela," she said in an interview. On television, she added later: "It is really, extremely sad that someone would be lying against my husband, against my family, for political capital."

She also said the couple will try to cut short two federal investigations of the hiring by approaching the agencies and agreeing to pay any fines or penalties.

The IRS and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have indicated that they are looking into possible violations of law by Huffington. During an interview Friday on KEY-TV in Santa Barbara, Mike Huffington said: "Everyone at some stage has broken the law . . . whether you have been caught or not, that's another question."

Huffington campaign officials acknowledged Saturday that the controversy swirling around the candidate has forced them to make quick changes to schedules and strategy. "Obviously, at this point, the playbook is thrown away," said spokeswoman Jennifer Grossman.

The candidate called off a morning event in the San Fernando Valley on Saturday, then was a no-show at a luncheon barbecue rally with Gov. Pete Wilson in Valencia. Campaign officials said Huffington missed the Wilson event because he was making a television commercial responding to the controversy.

Television commercials have dominated the Senate race, which has been marked by record spending by Huffington. The candidates were virtually even in recent polls taken before the nanny controversy became public.

Roy M. Huffington Sr., the candidate's father and the founder of the family oil company in Texas, substituted for his son at the Wilson rally.

The senior Huffington said his son made a mistake by hiring an illegal immigrant. But like his son, he downplayed the violation, saying that probably everyone attending the rally had employed an illegal immigrant.

"I know so many people who have said, 'All of us have done this,' Roy Huffington said. "His problem is that it's been very hard in the press."

Officials said Huffington canceled the scheduled precinct walk in the Valley because of a death in the family of the congressional candidate he had been planning to join.

Today, Huffington was scheduled to appear on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley," followed by a luncheon with Wilson near Sacramento. But campaign officials said he would be skipping the Wilson event to go to church.

Meanwhile, Feinstein's campaign was expected to get a major boost today with an endorsement from the Republican mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. The campaign scheduled the announcement of a "major endorsement" for 11:30 a.m. in Studio City.

Feinstein was in San Francisco on Saturday attending a women's political event with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Kathleen Brown. The senator did not address her opponent's immigration controversy, but she attacked his extraordinarily expensive campaign.

"I don't believe U.S. Senate seats should be bought," Feinstein said. "I believe they should be earned."

Since 1986, it has been a crime for employers to hire an illegal immigrant. The law calls for a civil fine of up to $10,000 per illegal worker.

Huffington has admitted to the hiring and said that taxes were not paid for the first year of the nanny's salary. Arianna Huffington said that the family's attorney will approach the IRS on Monday to pay back taxes as well as penalties. Huffington said their attorney will also approach the INS Monday and offer to pay a fine.

The Santa Barbara News-Press on Saturday published new allegations that the Huffingtons employed two additional illegal immigrants, both temporary workers--one who did various jobs around the house and the other who allegedly worked as a nanny for a few days.

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