Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, seeking to take the offensive Wednesday in his bid to unseat Sen. Pete Wilson, criticized his Republican rival for accepting $176,000 in speaking fees from special interests during his first five years in office.
The Wilson campaign called the issue a “phony, election-year ploy” and charged that McCarthy had never tried to enact a ban on such honorariums when he was Speaker of the Assembly and had accepted nearly $30,000 worth of gifts and free travel during the same period.
The lieutenant governor, citing an ongoing probe of political corruption in the state Legislature, challenged Wilson’s receipt of honorariums from groups that have an interest in congressional actions. In the Sacramento investigation, FBI agents are seeking to determine whether some lawmakers traded their votes for thousands of dollars in speaking fees.
McCarthy promised that if he is elected to the U.S. Senate he will introduce legislation prohibiting any member of Congress from accepting honorariums.
“It’s time to take honoraria out of the system--and it’s time to start putting honor back in,” he said.
Noting that he has never accepted any speaking fees during his 20 years in state office, the San Francisco Democrat also said he would favor a ban on honorariums for state legislators but had no plans to propose such a measure.
In raising the issue of the honorariums Wilson received, McCarthy said he was not suggesting that the senator’s votes were influenced by the money he accepted.
But he said Wilson received $14,000 in speaking fees from agricultural interests and $12,000 from lobbying firms that included defense contractors among their clients.
“If you take $2,000 from a special interest,” McCarthy said, “you’ve got to expect that one day they’ll come back to you and ask you to support them on an issue in which they have an interest.”
Otto Bos, Wilson’s campaign manager, noted that the lieutenant governor had never tried to win passage of a ban on honorariums for state legislators, even when he held the powerful post of Speaker of the Assembly.
“It’s a phony, election-year ploy five weeks before the election by someone who has never lifted a finger about this during his 20 years of public life in Sacramento,” Bos said.
Members of the Senate may accept no more than $35,800 a year in honorariums--40% of their salaries. Wilson has donated about $20,000 of his honorariums to charity, Bos said.
Cites Gifts, Trips
Although McCarthy has refused to accept honorariums, Bos charged that he has accepted thousands of dollars in gifts and free trips, including more than $28,000 in his first five years as lieutenant governor.
Among the gifts McCarthy received were a $2,540 trip to the Soviet Union paid for by the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, a $6,143 trip to Italy paid for by an Italian labor union and a $3,252 trip to the Middle East paid for by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Bos said.
In response, McCarthy said he did not recall ever taking a gift from anyone who had “the strong potential of coming to me and asking me to cast a vote for them.”
The Wilson campaign also charged that McCarthy has improperly used state funds to send out letters alluding to his hope of defeating Wilson and moving to the nation’s capital.
The letters, mailed to 190 people interested in the issue of adult day care, included a copy of a speech McCarthy gave last month in which he said, “When I get to Washington, I’m going to be part of this effort to work for enlightened policies that will help seniors. . . . “
At another point in the letter, McCarthy talks about “where I’ll be living in January--Washington, D.C.” However, he made no direct mention in the letter of his race against Wilson.
Alan Katz, McCarthy’s chief of staff, said the references to Washington were “innocuous” and did not violate state laws against using state resources to conduct a campaign. But he said McCarthy’s campaign will reimburse the state for the $80 cost of the mailing to clear up any “confusion” over the letter.
In defending Wilson’s acceptance of honorariums, Bos repeated Wilson’s call for McCarthy to release copies of his tax returns for the last 10 years. McCarthy, who has become wealthy from a series of real estate investments, has released his 1987 tax returns. But McCarthy again refused to make his prior years’ returns public, saying that he will not let Wilson “dictate” his actions.