In one of the sharpest attacks in the U.S. Senate primaries, state Controller Gray Davis has prepared a television commercial to begin airing today that compares his Democratic opponent, Dianne Feinstein, to convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley, the New York hotel queen.
At one point, the announcer in the ad says: "Helmsley is in jail. Feinstein wants to be a senator?"
The basis of Davis' comparison is a civil suit filed against Feinstein by the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging improper reporting of about $8 million in contributions and expenditures during her unsuccessful 1990 campaign for governor. The lawsuit has not yet gone to trial, so no determination has been made on whether the campaign violated state laws.
In any case, no criminal charges or prison term are involved. Helmsley was indicted, tried and convicted of evading federal income taxes and began serving a prison term in April.
Asked for comment, Feinstein campaign manager Kam Kuwata, a former consultant to Davis, said, "It's a cheap, sleazy ad by a cheap, sleazy politician."
The commercial shows side-by-side photos of Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, and Helmsley as an announcer says:
"Leona Helmsley and Dianne Feinstein?
"Helmsley blames her servants for the felony.
"Feinstein blames her staff for the lawsuit.
"Helmsley is in jail.
"Feinstein wants to be a senator? Truth, for a change. Gray Davis, Democrat for the U.S. Senate."
While the announcer speaks, San Francisco newspaper headlines flash on the screen: "Feinstein Sued Over Campaign Reports . . . Called Gross Negligence" and "Feinstein Claims 'Just Sloppy Accounting.' "
Kuwata said that Davis' first television commercial, which showed Los Angeles riot scenes, offended blacks and that the new ad offends women and Jews.
"You kind of get the feeling he's running for grand wizard of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) and not the United States Senate," Kuwata said.
Throughout the campaign, Feinstein has enjoyed a strong lead over Davis for the Democratic nomination for the two-year Senate seat now held by Republican John Seymour of Anaheim.
Feinstein has admitted that her 1990 gubernatorial campaign made mistakes but denied any intentional wrongdoing. She also has charged that political motivation was behind the suit by the Republican-dominated commission.
In calling Davis "a cheap, sleazy politician," Kuwata said that Davis has been investigated by the state attorney general "more often than anybody running for office."
One case involved the alleged use of computers in the governor's office for political purposes when Davis was chief of staff to then-Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
The other was immediately following Davis' election as controller in 1986, when he was accused of having state employees do political work for him while on state time and using state telephones. Davis was a state assemblyman when he ran for controller.
No charges were brought, but Davis reimbursed the state for the employees' time and telephone charges.