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Panel Files Complaint Over Funds for Roberti Recall : Ethics: State commission charges that Californians Against Corruption hid true source of campaign money.

October 12, 1995|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state Fair Political Practices Commission filed a 404-count complaint Wednesday against an organization that was the driving force behind an unsuccessful attempt to recall former state Sen. David A. Roberti, accusing the group of trying to hide the true source of many of its campaign contributions.

If the organization, Californians Against Corruption, is found culpable on all counts, it would result in record-breaking fines of more than $800,000, commission Chairman Ravi Mehta said. "This investigation has generated the most allegations ever in the 20-year history of the Political Reform Act," Mehta said.

Californians Against Corruption was dominated by opponents of gun control. The groups had targeted Roberti for recall because of his role in writing legislation that has banned the sale of military-style semiautomatic rifles--or assault rifles--in the state, a cause Roberti embraced after several bloody shooting incidents involving such weapons.

"Now they may have to pay their pound of flesh," Roberti, who retired from the Senate, said of the complaint. "It makes me feel good."

Roberti, a salaried member of the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, said he blamed Californians Against Corruption for ruining his chances of being elected state treasurer in 1994.

"The recall campaign chewed up all my [campaign] money and I didn't have time to recover from it so that I could run effectively for treasurer," Roberti said. In June, 1994, only two months after defeating the recall, Roberti was on the statewide ballot, seeking the Democratic nomination for treasurer. He lost that race to fellow Democrat Phil Angelides.

Recall supporters later said that Roberti's defeat in the treasurer's race meant that their recall campaign had worked by denying the former powerful president pro tem of the state Senate a chance to gain a political promotion and remain a vital figure in state politics. Although he defeated the recall, the former Van Nuys Democrat had to step down from the Senate later in 1994 because of term limits.

Commission investigators characterized the violations by Californians Against Corruption as the "worst and most flagrant in FPPC history" in their 18-page formal accusation.

The accusation was filed against the organization, which apparently is disbanded, and two of its former treasurers, Carl Russell Howard and Steven Cicero. Mehta said both men have been legally served with the accusations but had tried to evade the agency's process servers. Howard was a former securities analyst in the South Bay and was the workhorse behind the 1994 campaign to recall Roberti.

Dolores White, a San Fernando Valley real estate agent and longtime GOP activist, said Wednesday that she had lost contact with Howard, the most visible of the two treasurers. White allied herself with the gun control opponents and ran against Roberti in the 1994 recall.

"I was certainly not aware of any illegalities in the campaign," White said. "And I'd be surprised if there were any."

The commission accusation charges that the 404 violations occurred from Jan. 1, 1992, to June 30, 1994. Many of the violations involved failures to fully disclose all required information about contributors to Californians Against Corruption, whose founders included Richard L. Carone, the owner of a South Bay-based oil drilling company.

In addition, the organization allegedly failed to disclose anything about $16,742 in contributions made by 62 individuals and organizations, Mehta told The Times.

The largest of the contributions not properly reported was $5,000 from the National Rifle Assn., according to the accusation. In addition, contributions of $1,500 from Davis Industries, a San Jaoquin Valley-based handgun maker, and $1,000 from Gun Owners of California, a lobbying group, were not reported, the document said.

An additional $7,472 in contributions from 58 individuals was not reported, according to the accusation. "It's not a lot of money, but it's the number of individuals involved that's significant," Mehta said.

All told, Californians Against Corruption reportedly raised $141,559 during the affected period, and spent $103,091, Mehta said.

Mehta refused to offer his personal reaction to the evidence compiled in the accusation. The commission, which he heads, will actually sit as judge of the case.

"I have to keep an open mind; it's inappropriate for me to talk about how I will respond," he said.

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