Toward the end of the 1988 session of the Legislature, a bipartisan group of senators and Assembly members set up a meeting to discuss a proposed increase in the state gasoline tax. It was not expected to be the friendliest of gatherings, and the participants needed someone to chair the meeting who could keep the guns off the table.
The choice: state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), known around the Statehouse for--in no particular order--his joviality, his knowledge of the legislative system, his legendary fund-raising abilities and his seemingly ever-expanding girth. “Campbell, by his personality, can keep those kinds of bipartisan meetings from getting nasty,” Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) said.
That reputation has helped to make Campbell a solid favorite to turn back the 31st Senate District challenge of Democrat Janice Lynn Graham of Laguna Hills, in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2 to 1.
In fact, he is such an overwhelming favorite in that race that he shows no hesitation about discussing other political challenges he sees in his future, looking beyond Nov. 8.
So far this year, Campbell, 53, has raised more than $400,000 in campaign contributions, much of which he has used to pay off debts from his unsuccessful 1986 state controller’s bid. Campbell lost that race to Gray Davis by about half a million votes, taking 44% of the statewide vote to Davis’ 52%.
In a recent interview, Campbell said that he will consider another try at statewide office when the debt from his controller’s race has been retired. He has his eye on 1990--and on the office of governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer.
Says He Is Vulnerable
But while Campbell is looking toward higher office, Graham says he is vulnerable now.
“If you were an employer, would you hire someone who was absent 31% of the time, who did not show up for 54% of the company meetings?” the 51-year-old Graham said. She added that she was referring, respectively, to Campbell’s attendance for floor votes and committee votes in 1988. “In 1986,” she said, “he didn’t vote on one environmental bill.”
Campbell replied: “Anybody who’s been in a leadership position--their voting record may not be as high as someone who’s able to be on the floor every day or every committee and not working on anything else.”
In 1983, a coalition of conservatives ousted Campbell from his position as Senate GOP leader, with some claiming that he was spending too much time giving speeches outside Sacramento and not enough on party leadership matters.
This year, Campbell acknowledged, he has been spending “a lot of time” campaigning for Republican presidential candidate George Bush. He was tapped in 1987 to serve as co-chairman--with Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove)--of Bush’s presidential campaign in California.
Graham, a New York native who moved to California less than 3 years ago, characterized Campbell, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1966, as a legislator “who’s been there far too long.”
She has joined some other women’s rights advocates in chastising Campbell for his sponsorship of an annual women’s conference. In 1987 alone, the conference paid about $165,000 to a company that helped organize the session and which is owned by Campbell’s wife, Margene, and Campbell aide Karen L. Smith. Graham also is unhappy about the Small Business Administration’s co-sponsorship of the conference and the subsidies it has provided in recent years.
“I think what he did was a blatant misuse of his position,” Graham said. She also criticized “the misuse of SBA funds that are not for the purpose of a conference where his wife and an aide make a profit. Those funds are for small businesses, not Sen. Campbell. I think he’s way out of bounds on that.”
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has been reviewing the conference for possible illegalities. An FPPC spokeswoman said the review is pending and declined to answer any other questions.
An SBA spokesman said the agency’s possible involvement in future women’s conferences hinges on a request from Campbell. So far, the spokesman said, Campbell has not asked for SBA involvement next year. Campbell said the SBA in fact may not be asked for such a direct role in next year’s conference.
Attracts Up to 14,000
The conference, which has attracted up to 14,000 women a year, offers an array of career tips and self-awareness seminars. In addition, exhibitors sell books written by conference speakers and offer information on such things as hair-styling and cosmetics, while vendors sell everything from belts and jewelry to handbags and clothing. Speakers have included such notables as TV talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey and Jihan Sadat, widow of the former Egyptian president.
In a move that may help to deflect the controversy, Smith is leaving Campbell’s office at the end of the year, the senator said, to pursue organizing such conferences full-time.
Campbell contends that the criticism of the women’s conference is politically motivated. Opposition to the conference, he added, occurred even before the firm owned by his wife and Smith was involved.
Graham and others who have criticized Campbell have said his sponsorship of the conference is hypocritical, because, according to Graham, “his voting record on anything to do with women is terrible.”
In 1987, The Times contacted four women’s groups and asked them about Campbell’s support of issues important to them. The Times’ score card showed that Campbell sided with the women’s groups on four bills, opposed them on four others and was absent on 19 other bills of interest to them.
Campbell is a foe of abortion but said he supports the Equal Rights Amendment.
While critics of the conference have directed their ire at Campbell, he tries to turn the tables, saying he does not see anything inappropriate in his actions.
“I don’t see it as a problem, in all honesty,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity to provide a tremendous women’s conference. The question is, ‘Could anybody else do that?’ I don’t know the answer to that, but why should I change a successful conference merely because the people responsible for the conference happen to work for me or be married to me?
“One of the things we try to do at the conference is to teach women who have skills they may have developed in the community or home or whatever to take and market those skills. Karen and Margene are excellent examples of why the conference is successful.”
The conference’s opponents, however, argue that Campbell--through his wife’s involvement--benefits financially from his own conference. “When you say, ‘Do I profit from it?’ indirectly, yes, I do profit from it,” Campbell said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But why the attack on Karen and Margene?”
Shadow of Moriarty
In addition to the women’s conference, Campbell has been touched by other controversies. Several years ago, he sponsored legislation for--and described himself as a “friend” of--former Anaheim fireworks magnate Patrick Moriarty, who pleaded guilty in 1985 to mail fraud after being accused of attempting to corrupt public officials. Campbell was not linked to those allegations.
He also has received numerous financial contributions from the City of Industry, for which he has pushed a number of bills. The city’s founder, James Stafford, was sentenced in 1985 on various charges relating to kickbacks from contractors. Again, however, Campbell was not personally linked to the allegations.
Without commenting on the particulars of the various controversies, Assemblyman Ferguson said of Campbell: “The effect may have been disastrous to some other politicians, but it hasn’t been to Bill Campbell. Some people can stub their toe and their life gets destroyed, and some can be slammed and banged around and it never affects them. Campbell is no newcomer to newspaper headlines, and it doesn’t seem to affect his constituents and it doesn’t affect his effectiveness as a legislator. I don’t know why that is--it’s like they call Reagan the Teflon President. Some guys are just born under the right sign.”
First Elected in 1966
A Pennsylvania native, Campbell is married and the father of three daughters. He was elected to the California Assembly in 1966 from a predominantly Democratic district in Los Angeles County. He served four Assembly terms (interrupted by an unsuccessful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors race in 1972) before being elected to the Senate in 1976.
His current district includes parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties. It stretches from Whittier to the City of Industry, Covina, West Covina and La Habra Heights in Los Angeles County. In Orange County, it includes Brea, Placentia and parts of Fullerton, Anaheim, Yorba Linda, El Toro, Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills.
Although Campbell and his associates say he once was an ideologue of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, he has developed a reputation for being able to work with the Democratic opposition.
Campbell, whose prodigious waistline is the source of many of his own jokes but has many of his friends genuinely concerned about his long-term health, has also shown a prodigious ability to raise money. His lists of campaign contributions for his current race include donors such as Abbott Labs of Chicago; Exxon of Houston; Cyanamid Citizens Action Committee in Washington; NutraSweet Co. of Skokie, Ill.; Oxy USA of Tulsa, and Pfizer Inc. (medical supply company) of New York.
It’s ‘a Big State’
“California’s a big state,” Campbell said. “We tend to forget that. California’s the largest state in the nation, the sixth largest economy in the world. We have people who do business in California who are located in other states and in other nations, and they have an interest in what goes on here.”
In addition, in recent years Campbell has been one of the biggest recipients among Southern California legislators of money made from speaking engagements. He received more in speaking honorariums last year than any other Orange County legislator, according to state records. Considered one of the Legislature’s best speakers, Campbell collected $26,350--more than twice that of the county runner-up, State Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim).
Graham has another view of Campbell’s vast contacts. “I chased his record all the way to the late ‘70s,” she said. “His voting record was quite good. He hit rock bottom when he lost the controller’s race (in 1986). He lost power and standing in the Senate. He became a lobbyist, not a legislator.”
Asked whom he lobbied for, she replied: “For anyone who gives him the money--insurance companies, gambling interests, oil companies, the tobacco industry.”
Charges of poor Senate attendance and special-interest legislation were the same charges leveled against Campbell in his 1984 Senate race, which he won with 75% of the vote. He has said he introduces only legislation that he believes in and does not refuse to introduce bills just because someone contributed to his campaign.
As for the large amounts of money he raises, Campbell said: “Would she (Graham) not raise $400,000 if she could?”
Mother of 5
Graham is married and the mother of five children. In New York, she was a high school English teacher for 15 years and later operated a bed and breakfast house in North Carolina for 3 years. Her only previous run for public office was an unsuccessful bid in 1981 for a New York Assembly seat. For her race against Campbell, Graham has raised about $8,100.
She said her top legislative priorities would be to provide more child-care facilities, work on a pluralistic solution to the area’s traffic problems and cut off an impending water problem in the state by giving more clout to the California Water Board. The board could “negotiate and actually mandate that certain water districts cooperate with each other,” she said. “The time is now, and we should stop fighting our own civil war when it comes to water and recognize it as a finite commodity. . . . “
Graham is a strong supporter of feminist issues. She said California should be prepared to add its name to states ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
Campbell said he is hoping to have the remaining debt from his 1986 controller’s race--which he said is about $70,000--paid off by year’s end. He said his future political plans hinge on various events. If Gov. George Deukmejian doesn’t run again in 1990, Campbell said, he may run for governor.
Lost on 3 Million Votes
“I ran a statewide race in 1986,” Campbell said. “I received 3 million votes and lost. I never thought I’d receive over 3 million votes and lose an election. . . . I had a taste of it. We spent a couple million dollars trying to get name identification, and I think we have good name ID in the state, and I’d have to build on that.”
Campbell said transportation is a “critical issue” and one of his legislative priorities for 1989. “We have to have an increase in the gas tax,” he said. “I know that’s not a popular issue, but by the same token, I know that if we don’t do something the situation is only going to get worse.”
Campbell said he has not settled on a specific increase in the current 9-cent-a-gallon gas tax but added that it may end up in the 4- to 6-cent range, depending, in part, “on what we think the public will accept.”
Other priorities, he said, likely will include legislation dealing with both arson investigation and penalties, as well as further disaster relief assistance, an as-yet unspecified attempt to address the state’s literacy problem, and perhaps another attempt at some kind of state-backed loan program for small businesses. A previous effort was vetoed, Campbell said.
Among his most significant recent legislative successes for his district, Campbell said, were bills to shift money from counties to cities that have little or no property tax revenue and to expedite relief for earthquake-ravaged cities, such as Whittier. He also lists among his achievements bills to increase penalties for drunken drivers and to create a task force on financing research into spinal-cord injuries.