A Democratic Party letter seeking funds to defeat candidates espousing the political philosophy of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. violated state election laws, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Los Angeles County Democratic officials this month sent over 5,000 of the letters to the party faithful, warning: "The same people who believe Walter Mondale is a drug pusher and KGB agent have sworn to take over our Democratic Party at all costs."
Party officials in Los Angeles County are particularly concerned about the 29 La Rouche-backed candidates they say are seeking seats on the county central committee. Three other La Rouche followers are running for GOP county central committee seats.
Money is needed, the Democratic letter said, to allow wider distribution of the party's county newspaper that lists the candidates.
Kushro Ghandhi, West Coast coordinator for LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee, sued the party's county committee, its chairwoman and editor of its newspaper Friday, asking for more than $1 million in damages and an order barring the committee from opposing any candidates in a partisan primary.
He called the letter a "highly illegal witch hunt," which violates state laws prohibiting the party from supporting, endorsing or opposing candidates in a partisan primary.
Judge Warren Deering ruled that the letter was illegal and ordered that no similar mailings be repeated.
"In my opinion the letter . . . constitutes an opposition to a candidate," he said. "Even though (the candidates') names aren't set out, they are identified in such a manner that their names could be ascertained."
However, Deering ruled that the party can continue to publish and disseminate information about the "philosophy, backgrounds or platforms" of candidates in any partisan primary race, as long as the material does not oppose or support the candidates.
That aspect of the ruling will enable major party officials to continue publication of material telling voters which candidates are affiliated with the LaRouche group. That, Los Angeles County Democratic officials had stressed, was the major purpose of their newspaper's listing.
"In most cases, people cast uninformed votes for county committee," county Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Wallace said in an interview earlier in the week. "Every Democrat has the right to make an informed choice. We feel if voters are given the choice, they won't vote for LaRouche-backed candidates."
Democrats have been reeling since Illinois' March primary, when two LaRouche-backed candidates won Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Rather than run on the same ticket with those candidates, gubernatorial nominee Adlai E. Stevenson III resigned from the ticket and assailed LaRouche as a "neo-Nazi, a bizarre and dangerous extremist who espouses hate-filled folly."
A one-time member of the communist Socialist Workers Party, LaRouche, 64, organized a violence-prone faction of the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. The faction, the National Caucus of Labor Committees, later made a sharp swing to the political right and established ties with the Ku Klux Klan and the ultraconservative Liberty Lobby in 1974. It now supports causes such as nuclear power and President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars."
A federal grand jury in Boston is investigating what prosecutors allege is "a massive pattern of credit card fraud" stemming from complaints that the LaRouche organization made unauthorized use of credit cards belonging to people who had contributed to various LaRouche-related concerns.
Ghandhi, a candidate for the county Democratic Committee from the 55th Assembly District, makes no bones about the LaRouche organization's intentions:
"In the long run, we want to take over the Democratic Party," he said, adding that by "the long run," he is referring to the 1988 elections when LaRouche will make his fourth run for the presidency.
"They're not going to take over the party," Smith said, "but it's a little bit like saying a few Nazis around are not too bad, as long as they don't get too strong."
Election to the party's county committee is one route to a seat on the state central committee, and Democratic Party officials say that any LaRouche gains on those committees would give that group credibility it would not otherwise have to raise funds, for instance.
Moreover, the state committee determines the delegate selection process for presidential conventions, elects members to the Democratic National Committee and raises money to conduct voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, officials said.
Democratic nominees to state constitutional offices, the Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate automatically become members of the state Democratic Central Committee. They, in turn, are allowed to appoint other members, and still others are elected from county committees.
In the 33rd Congressional District race where incumbent David Dreier (R-LaVerne) is seeking reelection, the LaRouche-backed candidate, Paul Jeffrey, could "easily" become the Democratic nominee, Wallace said, because "there's not that much Democratic money in the primary and not much attention" is being paid to the race.
Other candidates identified by Democratic officials as LaRouche-backed are virtually assured election to the county committee from the 42nd, 55th, 57th and 63rd Assembly districts, because Democrats have not fielded enough other candidates to fill the seven available seats.
LaRouche candidate Henry Gamboa, who is also seeking the GOP nomination for the 56th Assembly District seat, will be elected to the Republican county committee from the district because he is the only candidate running.
Ghandhi said LaRouche simply wants "people to run for office, because this country needs people to run for office." LaRouche candidates would not change the Democratic Party's structure, he said, but they would change party rules, so that "there are policy discussions at the local level."
The Democratic Party's problem is that it has very little organization left, he said, adding "That's why we've been so successful."
What the party needs at the local level, Ghandhi said, is "something a little like the best elements of the old, big city political machines, where voters have a sense they own their representatives."
THOSE NAMED AS LaROUCHE SUPPORTERS
These candidates for Los Angeles County Democratic committees have been identified as supporters of Lyndon LaRouche or have been endorsed by the LaRouche organization, according to the L.A. Democrat, a publication of the Los Angeles Democratic Party. The list was introduced as evidence in a Los Angeles County Superior Court proceeding:
Assembly District 41
10 of 19 candidates John H. Brown, Jr., Consultant
Edward M. Corpus, Logistics Consultant
James M. Duree, Self-Employed Consultant
June Grussendorf, Consultant
Helen Morgan, Accountant
Maureen G. Pike, Housewife
Tim Pike, Writer
Daniel Platt, Translator
Carol M. Ruckert, Consultant
Patrick L. Ruckert, Consultant
Assembly District 43
2 of 13 candidates Don E. Marquis, 1984 LaRouche Delegate
John B. Weber, Retired Manufacturer
Assembly District 45
5 of 12 candidates Bruce M. Khouri, Entrepreneur
Michael R. Hodgkiss, Drug Counselor
Judy L. Huffman, Businesswoman
Mary Louise Khouri, Political Consultant
Margaret R. Levinson, Consultant
Assembly District 46
2 of 15 candidates Mary F. Lyans, Consultant
James D. Wyrick, Draftsman Contractor
Assembly District 49
1 of 8 candidates Joe Alcoset, Logistics Analyst
Assembly District 55
2 of 5 candidates Ted Andromidas, Political Consultant
Khushro Ghandhi, Consultant
Assembly District 57
3 of 9 candidates Mary C. Knorpp, Incumbent
David D. Schweitzer, Incumbent
Margaret Thrasher, Interior Decorator
Assembly District 62
1 of 8 candidates Paul Jeffrey, Masonry Contractor
Assembly District 63
1 of 2 candidates Ruth Stephenson, Int'l Affairs Spec.