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Democrats battle by mailer in 32nd District race

May 02, 2009|Jean Merl

The high-stakes race for the open 32nd Congressional District seat has taken on a sharper tone, with the two Democrats widely perceived as the front-runners hitting each other in political mailings to voters.

Among Judy Chu's slew of mostly positive mailers was one that featured a front-page Los Angeles Times article on state Sen. Gil Cedillo's spending more than $125,000 of his legislative campaign money on expensive dinners, hotels and gifts. The mailer reprinted the April 11 article in full and highlighted two paragraphs contrasting Chu's "frugal record" with a summary of Cedillo's spending.

Cedillo, in two separate pieces that arrived in mailboxes in recent days, used newspaper articles to try to bolster his charge that Chu, a state Board of Equalization member, gave "tax breaks and contracts" to her corporate campaign contributors.

The language used as headlines on the Cedillo mailers, however, came from articles having nothing to do with Chu. One, "This Is an Outrage!" appeared as a quote in a March 16 Los Angeles Times article about anger over bonuses given to executives of AIG, one of the struggling corporations given federal financial aid. Another, "Political Malfeasance and the Financial Meltdown," ran above a syndicated George Will column March 25 in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The "tax breaks" cited in Cedillo's mailings are actually refunds of tax overpayments by corporations, according to Board of Equalization records and documentation the Cedillo campaign provided to The Times.

Most, if not all, were routine, noncontroversial matters approved by unanimous vote upon recommendation of the agency's staff, according to Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the Board of Equalization.

Gore said it is common practice for some corporations to pay more taxes than they owe -- sometimes as a hedge against inadvertently paying too little and being penalized -- then seek refunds for the overpayments. All refund requests are carefully vetted by the staff, Gore said.

Parke Skelton, Chu's campaign consultant, said Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) "is misrepresenting her record. . . . Is he truly arguing that people who overpaid taxes can't get refunds?"

In its latest newsletter, the California Taxpayers Assn. also criticized Cedillo for his "deceptive mailer." Cedillo, former head of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, "should know better than to make such an unfair and unprincipled charge," the newsletter said.

Victor Abalos, a spokesman for the Cedillo campaign, said the headlines were to draw voters' attention and referred to the nation's economic woes in general and not to Chu.

"Voters have been hearing all this stuff about the senator's expense account," Abalos said, "but we want to bring up points that are [relevant] to voters, and one of those is the economy."

Abalos also said making a distinction between "tax breaks" and "tax refunds" was not as important as Chu's voting on the matters.

Although Chu was not required by law to recuse herself, she should have refrained from voting as a matter of principle, the Cedillo campaign said in a written statement Friday.

"She has used loopholes . . . to take political contributions from large corporations and then grant the same corporations tax relief," the statement by campaign manager Derek Humphrey said.

Only four of the 12 candidates in the May 19 special election have raised enough money to send mail, considered essential to communicate with likely voters in the sprawling district, which begins on Los Angeles' Eastside and runs east through much of the San Gabriel Valley.

Another of the eight Democrats on the ballot, political newcomer Emanuel Pleitez, has sent four mailers so far. They avoid criticizing his competitors and focus instead on his hardscrabble El Sereno roots as the child of immigrants, the issues he considers most important and his role in the U.S. Treasury Department as part of the Obama administration transition.

South El Monte restaurant owner Teresa Hernandez, one of three Republicans on the ballot in the strongly Democratic district, has sent mail to voters unaffiliated with any political party as well as to the district's GOP voters. Her mailers castigate the "career politicians" in Sacramento and Washington and offer her candidacy as a way to "send a message to Washington that 'business as usual' is no longer acceptable."

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jean.merl@latimes.com

Times staff writer Evan Halper in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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