Dianne Feinstein lashed out against Pete Wilson on the two looming issues of the 1990 gubernatorial campaign Sunday--targeting the S&L; crisis and the so-called quota issue as evidence that Californians "deserve better" than Wilson as governor.
Seeking to back up her characterizations, Feinstein cited 16 instances in which Wilson, during his eight years as a U.S. senator, contacted federal banking officials on behalf of savings and loan stockholders and officers who had complained that they were being wronged by the federal bureaucracy.
"Sen. Wilson's managers say that this was just constituent service--standard practice. Well, if it is standard practice, it is not a good practice. Californians deserve better," Feinstein told delegates to the state convention of the Mexican American Political Assn. in Los Angeles.
"Californians want a senator and a governor that does more than sit and watch while the biggest and costliest scandal in American history unfolds."
A review of Wilson's correspondence, however, showed that most of it was composed of form letters in which the senator asked banking officials to "determine the appropriate assistance for my constituent."
After Wilson sent out each of the letters, he received a response from federal regulators. There is no indication that the Republican senator put out additional effort on behalf of any S&L; after receiving the response.
Wilson's campaign director, Otto Bos, accused Feinstein of leading a "sneak attack" on the senator by making the charges on Sunday, when federal officials were not in their offices to respond. He characterized the letters as "routine inquiries."
At the center of the dispute is Feinstein's effort to tar Wilson with the political fallout from the scandal-ridden savings and loan industry, whose government bailout is now estimated to cost $500 billion, including interest.
To do so, Feinstein's strategists have argued that any effort to contact regulators on behalf of a particular S&L; constitutes "intervention" on Wilson's part.
"If it's Uncle Harry's Social Security check, that's a legitimate role," said Bill Carrick, Feinstein's campaign manager, drawing a distinction between helping individuals and assisting particular financial institutions. "There's a difference between that and these very powerful people who were saying: 'Hey, I'm having trouble. . . .' "
Feinstein's staff said the inch-thick sheaf of correspondence it collected on Wilson through the federal Freedom of Information Act showed that the senator had continued to forward letters to federal banking officials, even after he had been told why particular regulations were being enforced.
But Bos said Wilson's actions were the minimum demanded of public officials by constituents. And he drew a contrast between Wilson's letters and the public meetings that Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston had with federal banking officials to defend Lincoln Savings & Loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr.
Cranston's actions on behalf of Keating are expected to lead to Senate Ethics Committee hearings.
"If you call them (federal regulators) on the carpet, like Cranston did, that's intervention," Bos said. "There's nothing in this record that suggests there is anything of that sort."
The savings and loan crisis exploded as a gubernatorial issue this week, when Feinstein began airing commercials critical of Wilson. The senator has angrily denied his Democratic opponent's insinuations in the ad that he was acting on behalf of the savings and loan industry because he received $243,000 in political contributions from the industry this decade.
Feinstein also on Sunday sought to sidestep criticism of fellow Democrat Cranston's defense of Keating. She pleaded ignorance of Cranston's well-publicized problems.
"We have not received this same information on Alan Cranston," Feinstein told reporters before her speech, adding: "I'm not running against Alan Cranston.'
In her speech to the MAPA delegates, Feinstein not only raised the S&L; issue, but also the second contentious subject of the campaign thus far--the so-called quota issue. Wilson has sharply criticized Feinstein for promising to appoint women and minorities to her Administration in the proportions in which they exist in California's population.
"I am against quotas," she said. "Remember, I stand before you as one who knows that quotas can be used to keep people like us also locked out.
"That's happened to me as a woman, and it's also happened to me as a one whose religion is Jewish. The one person who hasn't encountered this I believe is Sen. Pete Wilson."
Times political writer Bill Stall contributed to this story.