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Hart Denies Knowing of ’84 Financial Improprieties : County Hart Backers ‘Caught by Surprise’ by Allegations

Times Political Writer

Video producer Stuart Karl’s Orange County friends said Wednesday that they were stunned by allegations that Karl may have been involved in improper campaign contributions on behalf of presidential candidate Gary Hart.

“It caught us by surprise, just like everyone else,” said Christopher Townsend of the Stein-Brief development company, a fellow Hart supporter. “It’s too early to tell what impact it’s going to have.”

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that Karl, 34, put on his own payroll a Hart aide in 1986 and that he advanced more than $96,000 to Hart in the closing days of Hart’s 1984 presidential bid. There is a $1,000 contribution limit in federal campaigns.

Orange County lawyer Bernard Schneider, a longtime Hart supporter who is Hart’s general counsel for his latest run at the presidency, said he had talked to Karl Wednesday morning about the allegations.

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“We wanted to know what he knew,” Schneider said. “We gave him a call and started asking him questions, just like you would.”

Schneider said he and other Hart supporters intend to ask the Federal Elections Commission to ask for a review of Karl’s role in the campaign.

“As near as we can tell,” Schneider said, “there was nothing wrong” with what Karl did. “There was nothing secret about it.”

Karl was holed up Wednesday in Schneider’s law offices because “the press is at his office and his home and his mother’s home,” Schneider said. He said Karl was consulting in a separate office in the firm with his own lawyer, Michael Genovese.

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Karl, who made a fortune marketing Jane Fonda workout videos and Playboy videos for home video recorders, was drawn into politics in 1983 in the early days of Hart’s first presidential campaign. He was among a group of Orange County Hart supporters who helped raise money for Hart’s Iowa campaign, which catapulted him into the national spotlight. Although Hart eventually lost the nomination to Vice President Walter Mondale, the campaign poised him for another run in 1988.

When Hart dropped out of the current race last year after reports that he had spent the weekend with a Miami model while his wife was in Denver, Karl said he was “shell-shocked.” But a few weeks later, he showed up at an Orange County campaign event for Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), to whom he gave a $500 contribution and his public support.

Since Hart’s re-entry into the campaign, Karl has told friends that he was rethinking what he wanted to do.

Karl also has been generous to other candidates. In 1985-86, he gave $10,000 to State Controller Gray Davis’ campaign, $21,000 to state Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) and $10,200 to Jane Fonda’s husband, Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), according to Legitech, a private service that tracks campaign contributions.

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According to his Orange County friends, Karl is a man with boundless energy, good intentions and a “real good heart.”

John Whitehurst, former executive director of the Orange County Democratic Foundation, the $1,000-a-year support group of which Karl was a member, described him as “a very generous person with no political agenda.”

George Urch, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party, said that if anything is amiss with Karl’s contributions, “I would tend to blame not Stuart . . . but the Hart campaign itself for not letting him know he could or could not do things.”


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