Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti, in a stinging denunciation of political radical Lyndon LaRouche, said Monday that the recent electoral successes of LaRouche and other "lunatic neo-Nazis" have convinced him to abandon his long-held advocacy of public financing of legislative races.
In a speech to a Jewish public affairs organization, the Democratic leader from Los Angeles said giving taxpayer money to such "radical hate groups" would lend them a "degree of respectability and legitimacy in the California electoral process that they otherwise would not have.
"It's one thing to stand up foursquare for everybody's right to free speech and free articulation of their ideas," Roberti said. "It's quite something else for the government and for you and me as taxpayers to have to fund that and give it legitimacy."
Describing the LaRouche platform as "strange and weird and slanderous in all of its ramifications," Roberti said he was particularly concerned by reports that LaRouche is sponsoring a full slate of candidates for the Los Angeles County Democratic Committee, and had run at least one candidate against him in the past.
Assembly GOP leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, who shared the podium with Roberti and Republican Gov. George Deukmejian at the Jewish Affairs Committee luncheon, joined the attack on LaRouche and his followers, calling them "demagogues" and "nuts" who "are very short on the real solutions to problems."
'Out and Out Anti-Semitic'
Deukmejian did not mention LaRouche in his remarks, which focused on his record as governor and were largely overshadowed by Roberti.
Roberti warned the Jewish lobbying group that it should not ignore the LaRouche organization, which he said promotes a platform "that is out and out anti-Semitic."
"Tenaciously, every two years, they field candidates and we haven't paid too much attention to that fact until we were shocked into the realization that they can actually score some victories," the Senate leader said. "These fringe groups are proliferating through our nation for reasons I don't fathom."
In reply, Khushro Ghandi, West Coast coordinator of LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee, said: "Roberti knows nothing about us. He's either a liar or he reads the L.A. Times. . . . He's just repeating what he reads in the papers and that's a very silly thing to do."
Two LaRouche associates won Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state in the March 18 Illinois primary, touching off a flurry of controversy. In California, the LaRouche organization is fielding at least 24 candidates for major offices, including 16 for U.S. Congress and seven for the state Assembly.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Roberti said he was concerned that LaRouche candidates could qualify for taxpayer money under every legislative campaign reform proposal now under consideration, and "if we can't (exclude them) then I'd rather not have public financing."
Roberti said he had not discussed his turnaround on public financing of campaigns with other Democrats but predicted that recent election successes of LaRouche followers would generate support among his colleagues.
"When we fashion legislation," Roberti said, "we have to think about their participation in the legislative process."
With California legislative races now the most costly in the nation, Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate, including Roberti, have been toying with a variety of proposals to limit what can be spent in election races. Most of those, including a sweeping campaign overhaul by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and a similar initiative proposal being pushed for the November ballot, link spending limits to some form of public financing.
Although Deukmejian has threatened to veto any proposal that includes public campaign financing, many legal experts argue that it would be an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech to restrict election spending without at least partial taxpayer financing.
Already given only a slim change at passage, Roberti's opposition would appear to doom most of the campaign reform measures awaiting action by the Legislature.