CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / INSURANCE COMMISSIONER : Zelman, Garamendi Unveil Campaign Advertising Plans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic insurance commissioner candidate Walter Zelman has unveiled a television advertisement portraying him as the only major candidate who is taking no special interest money in the campaign.

Zelman, former director of California Common Cause, says in his 30-second television commercial that his lack of special interest financial support means that "my campaign can't afford a major television ad campaign."

He said he hopes to be able to buy up to $40,000 in air time before the June 5 primary. This compares with reported television commitments by other Democratic candidates thus far exceeding $700,000 for state Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), and close to $600,000 for State Board of Equalization Chairman Conway Collis and TV commentator Bill Press.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that Garamendi has obtained, for an undisclosed price, the services of the Berman & D'Agostino campaign firm. The firm, which has a reputation for shrewd and often controversial campaigning, calls itself BAD Campaigns and is the campaign arm of the powerful political machine headed by Reps. Howard Berman and Henry Waxman, Democratic congressmen from Los Angeles.

Revels Cayton, Garamendi's campaign manager, said, "We've hired BAD to produce a television spot for us and that's being completed in time for Memorial Day, and we're going to be on their slates."

Cayton added that, "I'm not sure, no one is precisely sure, how much mail will be going out in our behalf." But managers in at least three other campaigns said they had been told that Berman and D'Agostino will send out at least three pieces of mail on Garamendi's behalf to households throughout California containing at least two Democrats who had previously shown a high propensity to vote. They estimated that mail alone could cost Garamendi $600,000.

Press, who has either led or closely trailed Garamendi in a number of polls, commented that "not even the talents of Michael Berman (one of the partners in the firm) can sell California voters a professional politician who did not support Proposition 103."

But obtaining the services of the Berman firm has long been seen as a vital prerequisite for a Garamendi primary victory.

The senator, who has run unsuccessfully twice before for statewide office, carried a large majority of the state's 58 counties in 1986 in his race for state controller against Gray Davis, but his weak spot was the Los Angeles metropolitan area. That is the area where the Berman political machine is strongest.

Garamendi, criticized by Zelman for taking campaign contributions from many political action committees, does not get contributions from the trial lawyers, who are mainly backing Press, and has returned most contributions from the insurance industry. But he is collecting heavily from medical practitioners and other powerful Sacramento lobbies, while vowing to defend consumer interests.

CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS: THE AD CAMPAIGN

The race: Insurance commissioner. Whose ad? Democratic candidate Walter Zelman.

Zelman has a 30-second commercial that tries to get across the point that he is the only major candidate in the race who is independent of the special interests.

At a maximum, Zelman says he will be able to afford only $40,000 worth of air time, not much by statewide campaign standards.

Elements of the ad, with an analysis by Times staff writer Kenneth Reich:

Ad: "Not many people will see this ad because I don't take special interest money," an unsmiling Zelman declares. "I don't take money from the insurance industry. I don't take money from trial lawyer associations, and I don't take money from political action committees. And I'm the only major candidate who can say that." He concludes, "If you want to elect a fund raiser, vote for the guy with the most commercials. If you want to elect a consumer leader, vote for me. . . . I'm the one without the special interest money."

Analysis: This ad is franker than most, and its main elements are correct. Of the candidates in the top two or three positions in the polls on both the Democratic and Republican sides, Zelman is the only one to bar taking money from all three powerful interest groups. One phrase, however, "trial lawyer associations," is carefully worded. Zelman does take money from individual trial lawyers, and this is potentially a sizable loophole in his purist position. Zelman, however, has supported no-fault auto insurance, so few trial lawyers are contributing to his campaign. The phrase "major candidate" is, of course, subjective, because some candidates may or may not be considered "major." Democrat Ray Bourhis, for example, also does not take money from the three interests. "The guy with the most commercials" is an apparent gibe at one of two Democrats, state Sen. John Garamendi or television commentator Bill Press, both of whom have made major television buys. Garamendi has raised considerable money from political action committees and Press considerable money from trial lawyers. Zelman, whose campaign is nearly broke, doesn't take from either.

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