Political Consultants Call Proposal to License Them by State 'Tyranny'

Times Staff Writer

Political consultants Tuesday decried as "tyranny" a proposal by the state Fair Political Practices Commission to clean up political campaigns by licensing and controlling their industry.

The consultants, speaking in Los Angeles on the first of two public hearings on the proposal, attacked the licensing plan as an infringement on their First Amendment right of free speech. And they warned that it could make them subject to the whims of "political appointees" (commission members) eager to curry favor with those who had appointed them.

'Manipulate the System'

George Young, a veteran political consultant in Los Angeles, compared the power the political practices commission, which would do the licensing, would derive from the proposal to that of Boss Tweed, who once bragged that he had control of New York City Democratic politics because "I count the votes."

"You can manipulate the system in some way," Young said.

The proposal, pushed by Dan Stanford, commission chairman, and his staff, would require all paid consultants--people who give advice to candidates, plan campaign strategy or design advertising and literature--to register with the commission. The agency would then require consultants to make certain financial disclosures, conform to certain business practices and follow a code of ethics. Stanford has said he hopes that the threat of disciplinary action--censure, fines or even license revocation--against unethical consultants would serve as a "deterrent" to "mud-slinging" in state and local races.

Some of the speakers at the hearing applauded the proposal. Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi likened the idea to laws that protect the "public from false advertising by Ford Motor Co. or Starkist Tuna."

But the consultants disagreed in sometimes-emotional testimony. A representative of one firm accused Stanford of "McCarthyism" for statements about his clients.

And Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles-based consultant, pounded the lectern with his fist as he argued that the state commission should not be in charge of determining what is ethical conduct.

"I believe that to have any political body whose appointees are political figures . . . make decisions on how to express ideas to the populace is tyranny," said Hoffenblum, whose hands shook with emotion at times.

"Mr. Stanford, I might be in a position where I might be doing everything I can to defeat the person who appointed you," Hoffenblum said. "I can assure you that the people who appointed you might be irate, based on what that campaign is sending out. And there could be enormous pressure on you gentlemen to do something to impede or restrain that flow of ideas."

Two of the commission's five members are appointed by the governor and one each is appointed by the attorney general, controller and secretary of state.

City 'Free Market'

Hoffenblum and the other consultants also said that voters, acting as the "free-market system," are the best control on unethical practices because they defeat candidates who use "negative" campaign tactics.

Stanford, however, rejected that argument because, he said, most political races lack the kind of competition needed to be a true free-market system.

"The free market system did not cure racial discrimination in this country," he said. "The free-market system did not lead to the Voting Rights Act."

A second hearing on the proposal, which would require approval by the Legislature, is scheduled March 12 in Sacramento.

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