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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / PROPOSITION 187 : TV Network Calls Molina Demand for Aid 'Blackmail'

November 08, 1994|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, the region's most influential Latino officeholder, threatened to call for an "immediate boycott" of the Spanish-language Telemundo television network and its advertisers if executives did not provide a substantial contribution to the campaign against Proposition 187, it was learned Monday.

Joaquin F. Blaya, president and chief executive officer of the Miami-based Telemundo Group, responded Monday in a letter to Molina, denouncing the supervisor's action as a "senseless threat" and "political blackmail."

"I am truly appalled that a public official in the United States has the audacity to do something like that," Blaya said Monday evening in a telephone interview from New York.

Molina, reached at home late Monday, said there was nothing illegal or improper about her action and added that she will pursue plans for a boycott against Telemundo once the election is over.

"I feel very strongly about it, and anybody who wants to take me to task for it can do it," said the supervisor, who has already begun refusing interview requests from Telemundo reporters. "They're going to have to face the consequences of the community."

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What particularly annoyed her, Molina said, was Telemundo's recent "cheap shot" at rival Spanish-language network Univision, a major contributor to the anti-187 cause. Telemundo last week broadcast the fact that Univision's president and chief executive officer, Andrew Jerrold Perenchio, a Hollywood investor, kicked in $151,000 to the reelection campaign of Gov. Pete Wilson, the chief standard-bearer for Proposition 187.

"You allowed petty competition to divide our cause," Molina wrote to the Telemundo president in her letter, written on Board of Supervisors stationery and sent out on Friday. "I find this action to be an affront to our community."

But Telemundo's Blaya responded that the network had learned of Perenchio's contribution through a Los Angeles Times report and that it was a legitimate item for news coverage.

Univision's Perenchio, a registered Republican, said in a statement that he "vehemently opposes" Proposition 187, despite his contribution to Wilson. Records show that the Univision executive also pitched in $56,000 to the campaign of Wilson's Democratic rival, Kathleen Brown, who opposes the proposition.

The hotly disputed California ballot initiative would deny public schooling and tax-supported services to illegal immigrants. Debate on the proposition has taken center stage in today's California elections, particularly in the eyes of many Latinos who say they will be victims of discrimination it passes.

In her letter, Molina said she was "deeply disappointed" that Telemundo had not responded to a previous request that the network match the $300,000 donated by Univision, the nation's dominant Spanish-language network.

"Keep in mind that Telemundo is in business because of the Latino community," Molina, who was extremely active in anti-187 fund-raising efforts, told the Telemundo president. "Without this base, you would not be making millions of dollars in profit every year from advertisers trying to reach our market."

Unless Telemundo made a "positive response" by Monday, Molina wrote, she would call for an "immediate boycott" of the network, its advertisers and KVEA-TV Channel 52, the Glendale-based station owned and operated by Telemundo. Channel 52's chief competition in Los Angeles is Univision's KMEX-TV Channel 34.

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Several experts on campaign and election law called Molina's action tough but not illegal. Chuck Bell, a Sacramento attorney, labeled Molina's letter "hardball stuff," but probably not a law violation. There was no indication of any official action that Molina could take--such as a vote at the supervisor level--that would punish Telemundo for not making the contribution, Bell noted.

Harold W. Ezell, a co-author of Proposition 187, called Molina's action outrageous, adding: "I think that a grand jury ought to check into it."

In his written response, Telemundo President Blaya rejected Molina's request and called it "an egregious affront to the trust your supporters have placed in you to be a leader in bringing our community together."

Talk of a boycott was particularly sensitive, Blaya noted, because Telemundo--which owns and operates seven television stations nationwide--is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Moreover, Blaya said that Telemundo had used the airwaves and other resources to promote marches, fund-raisers and other efforts aimed a defeating Proposition 187. In addition, KVEA-Channel 52 set up 900-prefix telephone lines to solicit anti-187 donations and promoted them with free advertising spots, one of which featured Molina.

Times staff writers Shawn Hubler and Paul Feldman contributed to this story.

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