YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S.

Boxer Criticized Over Lawyer's Donations

Fong cites her backing from William Lerach, who has filed many shareholder suits. Her camp issues countercharges.


SAN JOSE — In the heart of the Silicon Valley, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Fong on Wednesday attacked Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer as an enemy of California's multibillion-dollar high-technology industry.

Speaking to a luncheon fund-raiser and later a Rotary Club, Fong lashed out at Boxer for receiving contributions from San Diego attorney William Lerach, whose name is a virtual curse word among Silicon Valley executives because of his many shareholder lawsuits.

"I have been there to support this industry," Fong said. "Barbara Boxer has been there to fight this industry. No wonder Bill Lerach and his friends have helped her with $800,000 in contributions."

The Boxer camp responded that Fong's idea of aiding the industry includes helping it "destroy the labor movement in California" and do business in nations that scoff at U.S. environmental and health laws.

"We will be glad to compare supporters," said Roy Behr, Boxer's campaign spokesman. "Matt Fong is supported by Newt Gingrich and Oliver North."

The $800,000 figure represents attorneys who have contributed to Boxer's campaign this fall.

The exchange came as the campaign moved toward its final stage, less than two weeks before election day. Returning from Washington after voting on the federal budget bill, Boxer attended an evening rally in San Francisco sponsored by abortion rights activists.

"Matt Fong and I do not agree on a single issue," Boxer told the gathering.

Lerach is a major Democratic Party donor and last month hosted a fund-raiser at his home in Rancho Santa Fe that was attended by President Clinton. In 1996, Lerach sponsored a losing statewide measure to make it easier to sue companies for securities fraud. Fong sided with Silicon Valley executives against the measure; Boxer was neutral.

At both locations, Fong criticized Boxer for voting against a 1995 bill to largely shield high-tech firms from the kind of stockholder lawsuits brought by Lerach. Boxer this year supported a milder version of the bill, but Fong dismissed that as "election year religion."

Behr denied the assertion that Boxer modified her stance to deflect criticism during a tough reelection campaign. "Matt Fong changes positions all the time," Behr said, "but no one has accused Barbara Boxer of that."

Both candidates believe that the road to the U.S. Senate goes through the Silicon Valley, the economic engine that drives Northern California, and both have spent months courting votes and contributions here. Fong has stressed his flat tax and school voucher proposals and the fact that as state treasurer he has steered investments toward start-up companies.

Boxer has noted that although she has disagreed with some views pressed by Silicon Valley companies, she has also supported tax credits for high-tech and biotech industries that were part of the 1997 budget act and fought to help California's semiconductor industry penetrate the Japanese market.

Fong said he will help the high-technology industry resist attempts by the AFL-CIO to organize its workers. "Can anyone believe that union organizing will improve the lot of high-tech workers?" he asked.

Fong hit at Boxer for her opposition to the "quality circles" bill that would have given bosses greater flexibility to manage unionized workers regardless of their labor contracts. Clinton vetoed the bill, and Boxer helped defeat a Republican bid to override the veto.

"The bill was wildly anti-labor," Behr said. "Maybe Matt Fong wants to destroy the labor movement in California, but Barbara Boxer does not."

Fong also criticized Democrats who oppose giving the president "fast track" authority to approve international trade pacts without involving Congress. Boxer and other Democrats oppose the move because they fear it will mean that American companies will seek to do business in countries that do not have laws protecting the environment and the safety of workers and consumers.

Video clips of the Matt Fong-Barbara Boxer debates are available on The Times' Web site:

Los Angeles Times Articles