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Huffington Mails Ads That Feinstein Calls Deceptive : Politics: Brochures stress his family life and attack senator. She cites use of military photo as questionable.

November 04, 1994|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With California's airwaves already awash with his record-setting television advertising campaign, U.S. Senate candidate Mike Huffington now is mailing an unprecedented deluge of glossy literature to voters across the state.

Millions of Republican and Democratic households in California are expected to receive two full-color mailers in the final days of the campaign, defying the traditional wisdom that statewide offices are beyond the reach of expensive mail campaigns, professional campaign experts said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's campaign says the mailers are deliberately deceptive. Spokesmen note, for example, that prominently displayed pictures of a man resembling Huffington in a military uniform might suggest that Huffington has a military record, even though he has never served in the military.

Huffington campaign officials declined to discuss the extent of their mail effort against Feinstein, but campaign reports indicate that, even before the bulk of the literature was sent, the Republican congressman had bought enough postage for nearly 3 million mailers. That would dwarf any previous direct-mail efforts in the state, according to political consultants interviewed by The Times. And much more is on the way, predicted several professionals who specialize in campaign mailers.

"Mike Huffington has a big checkbook and he is not afraid to crack it open," said Ray McNally, a Republican consultant who worked for the challenger when he ran for his House seat. "If you have the funds to do it you would be crazy not to, because there are people you won't reach on television."

The two principal mailers in the effort--one a Huffington biography and the other a piece attacking Feinstein as a greedy, special-interest politician--have been criticized by the senator's campaign staff as deceptive.

One of the most striking, and potentially misleading, images is found in the challenger's eight-page "California Report." It is a photograph of a handsome young Huffington in full-dress Navy uniform. Only a small print caption near the bottom of the page tells the reader that the picture is of a different Huffington--the candidate's father, Roy Huffington.

The candidate never was in the military, although he was old enough to serve in the Vietnam War. The candidate has said poor eyesight kept him out of the draft.

"They are attempting to have the casual reader believe that Huffington was in the military. There is no doubt about it," said Harvey Englander, a political consultant who works for both Republicans and Democrats. "I have never seen such a large picture in a political piece of a father who is not prominent himself."

Said Feinstein campaign manager Kam Kuwata: "He did less military service than Dan Quayle, if that's possible."

But the Huffington campaign defended the pictures. "He is from a family that he is very proud of," said Jennifer Grossman, Huffington's spokeswoman. "There are no secret codes or conspiracies in these pictures. They are there, literally, in black and white."

The biographical mailer is designed to bolster Huffington's image, after a campaign that has focused on attacking his opponent, several campaign professionals said. The brochure describes the challenger's education, business career and family life.

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Most of all, it seems intent on overcoming charges that Huffington, a Texas native, moved to California only to pursue his political ambitions. The "California Report" title is repeated on each page of the brochure, which also features pictures of Huffington and wife Arianna in front of a California flag and running along the beach.

A second mailer delivers a withering attack on "The Feinstein Family Business," which it says is characterized by "greed and special interest politics." On the cover of the mailer, a picture of Feinstein smiles out from a collage that includes stacks of $100 bills and newspaper clippings about investigations of her husband's business activities. Inside, a grainy black-and-white photo shows Feinstein as she purportedly "puts the arm on lobbyists at a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser."

The overall impression of the mailer is that Feinstein and her husband, merchant banker Richard C. Blum, have used her career in elective office to help build their personal fortune of $50 million.

In fact, Blum was already a wealthy financier when he married Feinstein in 1980. A recent review by The Times found that, in two years as a senator, Feinstein has supported several positions that benefited her husband. She also has taken other stands that hurt his economic interests.

Feinstein has never been accused of violating the Senate's ethics rules, which permit her to vote on bills that affect Blum's finances, as long as the legislation is not designed specifically with that intent.

Several of the specific claims in the Huffington mailer also could be misleading. The mailer:

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