Democrats' Boiler Room Project Cleared : GOP Steamed Over Taxpayer-Financed Telephone Survey

Times Staff Writer

The state Fair Political Practices Commission said Monday that it found nothing illegal about a taxpayer-financed telephone bank set up by a top aide to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to conduct surveys on behalf of four Assembly Democrats who had been targeted for defeat by Republicans.

The watchdog commission said the boiler room operation two blocks from the Capitol did not violate any laws because "the scripts did not expressly advocate the nomination, election or defeat of any candidate."

Constituents Called

Brown's chief of staff, Richard Ross, established the telephone operation last July to call constituents in the districts of the four Democrats about legislative issues championed by the lawmakers. The cost to the taxpayers totaled at least $37,000 for salaries and telephones.

After news reports of the activity, GOP leaders assailed the operation. Republicans challenging Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) and Assemblyman Steve Clute (D-Riverside) asked the commission to investigate.

Roger Brown, the commission's enforcement division chief, said it was determined that the operation did not violate any laws and was based on an analysis of "the evidence . . . existing law and court precedents."

Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan, disappointed over the commission's finding, said the surveys "stopped just one scintilla short" of political campaigning. "If they were not intended to do that, why on Earth did they conduct (the surveys) in the districts we targeted?" Nolan asked.

Ross has conceded that he chose the targeted districts--those where Republicans plan major campaign efforts--intentionally and acknowledged that his motives may have been at least partly political. But he said Monday that he knew all along the operation was legal.

In addition to Killea and Clute, the other Democratic incumbents whose constituents were surveyed between July and December were Assemblywoman Jean M. Duffy (D-Citrus Heights) and Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda). Duffy has since decided to retire from the Legislature.

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