A Republican candidate for Congress and key backer of Proposition 102 wrote a letter last November urging the leader of the John Birch Society to make political use of the AIDS epidemic to "rejuvenate" the extremist organization.
Copies of the three-page letter written by Dr. Stanley K. Monteith, a Santa Cruz orthopedist and ardent campaigner for the AIDS Reporting Initiative, were distributed Thursday by opponents of the November ballot measure.
The Monteith letter alleges that there is a "specific plan to keep us from doing anything about the epidemic. Part of this is engineered by the homosexuals, but part of this is definitely engineered by the subversive element within our nation."
Monteith said Proposition 102's opponents either want to "destroy America" or have been "duped" by those who do.
Monteith, who resigned from the Birch Society last year after 25 years as a member and once headed the group's Santa Cruz County operation, said in an interview that his personal letter had been stolen.
"Those intent on discrediting 102 have people planted everywhere," he charged.
"There is nothing in this letter I am ashamed of," he added.
A John Birch Society official said the conservative organization supports Proposition 102 but does not consider it one of the group's major issues.
Opponents of Proposition 102 denied that they had stolen the letter, adding that the document had been leaked to them by someone close to Monteith who had found the letter's implications "frightening."
"The letter makes transparent what we had long suspected--that Prop. 102's backers are right-wing zealots using AIDS for the basest of political purposes," said Mark Cloutier, an aide to Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae).
"They appear willing to exploit AIDS--and to throw away peoples' lives to do it," added Dana Van Gorder, Northern California coordinator of Californians Against Proposition 102.
"This is much too important a health crisis to politicize from either the left or the right," added Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), who is defending his 16th Congressional District seat against the challenge by Monteith.
"This is a time to unify all segments of society in a common effort to deal with AIDS with compassion and good sense," added Panetta, who is expected to retain his seat. The coastal district stretches from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo.
Proposition 102 would require health officials to gather the names of everyone who has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus that leads to AIDS and investigate their sexual contacts, perhaps as far back as 1979. State laws that allow anonymous testing, forbid testing without consent and bar using the test to deny insurance or jobs would be repealed.
Proposition 102 would require health officials to report the identities of persons who test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus that leads to AIDS.
Proposition 102's backers were dismayed that Monteith's letter had emerged as an issue in the statewide campaign.
"I'm sure Dr. Monteith wrote this, and I'm sure it is from the heart, but I don't think it is relevant to Proposition 102," said Brett Barbre, special assistant to Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton).
Monteith is listed on the letterhead of the initiative's sponsor, California Physicians for a Logical AIDS Response, as a "patron," indicating that he was an early financial supporter of the initiative drive.
Proposition 102's principal supporters are Dannemeyer--a harsh critic of AIDS policies and gays and the only major elected official to back two earlier AIDS initiatives by extremist Lyndon LaRouche--and Paul Gann, who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion before a screening test had been devised.
Charles Armour, president of the John Birch Society, said in an interview from his office in San Marino that the group had hosted Monteith for a speech to its leadership council and had circulated petitions on behalf of Proposition 102. Birch Society publications have also published such articles as "The Truth About AIDS," Armour said, though he denied that the group had put the AIDS issue "on the front burner."
Like the two LaRouche initiatives before it, Proposition 102 has drawn the strong opposition of AIDS researchers and organizations representing the state's doctors, nurses, hospitals and county health officers.
The measure has also been denounced by statewide officeholders in both parties.
Stanford University President Donald Kennedy also announced his opposition to Proposition 102 as a threat to AIDS research. In recent days the initiative has also been opposed by former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty, and by religious leaders in the state including all of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal bishops in California.
Some of California's large corporations--including Wells Fargo Bank, Levi Strauss and Pacific Gas & Electric--have criticized Proposition 102 as costly and counterproductive in the fight against AIDS.
Gann has called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank and other corporations that have donated money to the campaign against the measure. The bank contributed $5,000 to the Californians Against Proposition 102 campaign at a fund-raising dinner in San Francisco last week.
The nonpartisan legislative analyst in Sacramento has estimated the measure's costs at "possibly tens or hundreds of millions of dollars."
The initiative's backers are betting that voters are unhappy about AIDS being given special handling under public health laws while opponents insist that AIDS is a unique emergency that calls for a unique response and that present public health measures are succeeding.
Times staff writer Kevin Roderick contributed to this article.