2 Groups Cited in Probe of Suspect Prop. 64 Petitions
The chief prosecutor for Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp said Monday the state has included two groups tied to political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche in a “widening” investigation into possibly fraudulent gathering of signatures for Proposition 64.
Chief Assistant Atty. Gen. Steve White, in the most detailed explanation of the investigation yet, said agents are trying to determine what role the two LaRouche organizations, as well as 20 other people in five states, played in a possible conspiracy. He made his comments at a legislative hearing on Proposition 64, the AIDS measure sponsored by LaRouche’s political followers that seeks to force public health officials to test suspected carriers of the AIDS virus, and remove those with the virus from public-contact jobs such as food-handling and teaching.
White, who is chief of the criminal division of the state Department of Justice, said the investigation, which began in June, may last another six to eight weeks.
Outside the hearing, White told reporters the state has begun cooperating with the federal government and authorities in other states who are investigating the fund-raising tactics of one of the LaRouche organizations, Caucus Distributors Inc. The firm distributes LaRouche literature nationwide and donated most of the $216,000 spent to qualify Proposition 64 for the California ballot.
Caucus Distributors has been fined more than $6 million for refusing to provide subpoenaed records to a federal grand jury in Boston. In a preliminary report, the U.S. attorney there alleged Caucus has engaged in a “massive " scam to illegally use the credit cards of people who buy publications from LaRouche solicitors in airports and elsewhere. In addition, more than seven states are looking into allegations that the group has harassed elderly followers until they contribute large sums, and has lured others into making unsecured loans.
Officials of Caucus and various groups tied to LaRouche throughout the country have denied all the charges.
The investigation into Proposition 64 centers on the use of hired, out-of-state petition circulators to gather signatures at shopping centers last spring.
State law says those circulators must be California voters, White said, to guard against out-of-state interests secretly manipulating the election. The circulators must attest at the bottom of each petition that they are California voters, and falsifying the record is a felony punishable by three years in prison, White told the joint meeting of the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee and the Senate Health Committee.
Agents are also investigating the possibility that there was a conspiracy to break the election laws, White said.
“There are several crimes committed here, we believe,” he told reporters after his testimony.
In late June, a Missouri prosecutor called to report that seven men in his area said they had been paid to come to California and circulate petitions, White said.
The seven answered an ad in a Missouri newspaper placed by a professional petition circulator under contract to the Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee, the official sponsors of Proposition 64, White said. The ad offered $400 a week, with all expenses paid, for three weeks of signature-gathering, he added.
Agents obtained evidence that five of the men who finally agreed to take part gathered about 19,000 signatures in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, White said. Since then, he added, evidence has been uncovered that other out-of-state circulators were used, and that some signatures were simply copied out of the Los Angeles telephone book.
White would not detail how the two LaRouche groups, Caucus Distributors and Campaigner Publications, were linked to the investigation.
But he did say the professional petition circulator, identified as Stanley I. Dale, contracted with Caucus Distributors. Campaigner Publications was found to have purchased airline tickets for some or all of the 20 out-of-state signature gatherers who have been identified, White said.
Dale could not be reached for comment Monday.
It is considered unusual for prosecutors to discuss an ongoing investigation. Asked by reporters why he was breaking with convention, White said the public has a right to know what is going on before the election.
“This is a serious thing because if the allegations are true, it undermines our democratic processes and challenges our initiative process,” White said.
Before the committee, White urged the Legislature to pass new laws requiring election officials to verify the eligibility of petition circulators and to disqualify any signatures gathered improperly.