NEWS ANALYSIS : ELECTIONS / STATE SENATE : Sen. Rosenthal Cashes In His Political Clout : Politics: In tight battle against Catherine O'Neill and Assemblyman Tom Hayden, the veteran lawmaker calls for special interest help--and gets it.


In politics, like many aspects of life, money talks. It often speaks louder than words in defining the differences between political campaigns.

Seldom are those differences more starkly apparent than in the red-hot primary fight now raging among three liberal Democrats over a newly drawn state Senate seat that sweeps across the Santa Monica Mountains from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley.

Late campaign contribution reports, including telegrams to election officials, show that almost $1.3 million had been raised by Wednesday to finance the battle among state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal, Assemblyman Tom Hayden and Pacific Palisades public relations consultant Catherine O'Neill. At that pace, the 23rd Senate District race is certain to be one of the most expensive legislative primary fights in the state this year.

Although two veteran lawmakers are running, it is clear from the campaign reports that special interests with a stake in the Legislature are treating Rosenthal as though he is the incumbent.

They are betting heavily on his election in Tuesday's primary, pumping more than $274,000 into his campaign since the year began.

Faced with the first serious election challenge of his 18 years in the Legislature, Rosenthal has installed a private telephone line in his Capitol office so he can make fund-raising calls to lobbyists and special interest groups.

"I've asked them and they've come through," Rosenthal said Wednesday. "Every PAC or group that I've asked has been supportive."

However, Rosenthal said: "I'm not beholden to anyone. People just looked at the three of us and decided who would do a better job."

The senator's campaign manager, Lynnette Stevens, said Rosenthal has "no choice but to raise the money" this way to compete with Hayden's personal wealth. "We'd have no ability to get our message across," she said.

Joining the labor unions, utilities, racetracks and real estate interests--to name a few--are Senate Democrats determined to protect one of their own. So far, 12 senators have given $172,000 in cash and loans to the Rosenthal cause.

"Many of them probably don't like Hayden," Rosenthal said. "I've been helpful to senators in the past--I guess they are reciprocating."

In Hayden's case, more than 80% of what he has raised this year has come from himself or his own political organizations--a total of $532,000 in personal loans or transfers from Hayden's assembly campaign and his political organization, Campaign California. "I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is," he said.

In years past, when Hayden had a lock on his Assembly seat, he too drew his share of special interest contributions, mostly from labor unions. But the flow of funds has dried up since the former anti-war activist announced he was running for the Senate and declared war on what he calls the "special interest state" in Sacramento.

"These groups don't want to see me in the Senate," Hayden said. "They are rallying around an endangered incumbent. It's the typical incumbent protection society."

Although checks from special interest political action committees are absent from Hayden's campaign reports, Hollywood is still well-represented.

O'Neill, a distant third in the fund-raising frenzy, has patched together her own array of contributors. Organized women's groups, personal friends, entertainment industry figures and real estate interests, including some landlords and developers, have backed her candidacy.

In response to published reports about Rosenthal's and Hayden's latest contribution reports, O'Neill has added a new dimension to her anti-incumbent message--an eight-point plan for campaign reform.

"The (political) system is designed to lock out everyone who is not an incumbent," O'Neill said. She accuses Rosenthal of "relying on special interests to crowd out new voices" and Hayden of "trying to buy the seat."

O'Neill wants a ban on special interest gifts to legislators, an end to contributions from political action committees and corporations, a $1,000 limit on individual contributions, a ban on transfers between candidates, new restrictions on personal use of campaign funds and an absolute prohibition on any lawmaker lobbying a branch of state government within four years of leaving the Legislature.

In addition, O'Neill says contributions by candidates and their families should be limited to $50,000. She acknowledges that there are constitutional problems with restricting campaign contributions and says she is not opposed to public financing of candidates who demonstrate legitimacy or credibility.

Hayden vows to push for campaign reform, which is a hallmark of his candidacy, including public financing, full disclosure of legislators' outside income and restrictions on lobbying by ex-lawmakers.

Despite constitutional questions about limiting candidates' ability to contribute to their own campaigns, Hayden said he believes a way can be found to make such limits work.

Though acknowledging shortcomings with the present system of financing elections in California, Rosenthal said he is not a supporter of campaign reform. He opposed term limits for lawmakers and two campaign reform initiatives in 1988. "Unless there is something better, I'm not going to support it," he said.

Rosenthal argues that most campaign reform plans put forth in recent years are not reforms at all. "It would actually make it impossible for a non-incumbent to run a satisfactory race," he said. "Wealthy people like Hayden could buy it."

The senator's campaign is clearly benefiting from the status quo.

His latest campaign report shows $172,000 in cash contributions and loans from 12 Democratic colleagues: David A. Roberti of Los Angeles, Barry Keene of Ukiah, Bill Lockyer of Hayward, Henry J. Mello of Watsonville, Gary K. Hart of Santa Barbara, Leroy Greene of Carmichael, Mike Thompson of St. Helena, Dan McCorquodale of San Jose, Daniel E. Boatwright of Concord, Robert Presley of Riverside, Cecil N. Green of Norwalk and Ruben S. Ayala of Chino.

Labor unions have sent more than two dozen checks totaling more than $70,000 to the Rosenthal campaign, including $1,500 from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents Los Angeles police officers. Rosenthal has offered only lukewarm support for Measure F on the Los Angeles ballot, which deals with police reform and is opposed by the police union.

"I just called them for support and the check came," Rosenthal said of the union.

One of the nation's biggest apartment landlords, the National Partnership Investments Corp. of Beverly Hills, made the largest single contribution to Rosenthal's campaign--$40,000. The company controls real estate partnerships with thousands of apartment units throughout the United States.

Rosenthal said the size of the contribution "surprised the hell out of me." He said it followed a conversation he had with Alan Casden, chairman and chief executive of the real estate group.

"He feels very strongly about the differences between Hayden and myself," Rosenthal said. "Over the years, we've discussed the concept of rent control, which he (Casden) opposes completely," Rosenthal said. The senator said his position on rent control is that it should be dealt with at the local, not state, level.

Utilities, energy companies and cable television firms with an interest in legislation before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, which Rosenthal chairs, donated $31,900 to his campaign.

Among other contributors, horse-racing interests have given him $17,000; doctors, nurses and hospitals $8,000; tobacco companies $6,000; motion picture companies and theater owners $5,000; trial lawyers $5,000; optometrists $5,000; pharmaceutical companies $4,500; restaurant owners $3,000; beer producers $3,000, and insurance companies $2,500.

O'Neill had raised $179,083 by mid-May, including $17,000 in loans, mostly from herself.

She collected more than $12,000 from women's groups, including the Women's Political Committee, National Women's Political Caucus and the California chapter of the National Organization for Women.

O'Neill also reached deep into the entertainment industry, receiving $3,870 in cash and in-kind contributions from top executives of Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Channel. MCA, which donated $1,000 to Rosenthal, gave $500 to O'Neill.

Producers Peg Yorkin gave her $5,000, Pippa Scott $2,000, Donna Meehan $1,000, as did Grant Tinker, writer-producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Gary Goldberg of UBU Productions.

O'Neill also has accepted $500 from ACTION PAC, a Santa Monica landlord group whose long-cherished goal is to change the city's strict rent control law to permit apartment rents to rise to market levels when a unit is vacated voluntarily. O'Neill has said she favors such a change. She also received an in-kind contribution from the San Fernando Valley Apartment Assn.

Courting additional controversy in Santa Monica, O'Neill has received an in-kind contribution of nearly $2,500 in food and beverages for two fund-raisers from Santa Monica restaurateur Michael McCarty. His plan to build a luxury hotel on the beach was soundly rejected by Santa Monica voters in 1990. Hayden and Rosenthal both vigorously opposed the hotel. O'Neill said that she would have supported the project if she had been in the area at the time.

O'Neill also has received $500 contributions from Marina del Rey developers Douglas Ring and Jerry Epstein. She says developers, including McCarty, have given less than 2% of her campaign funds.

Her campaign reports also show significant contributions from friends and associates in New York, where she and her husband, author and political columnist Richard Reeves, lived before returning to Los Angeles last October. O'Neill is also the only candidate in the race to receive campaign contributions from Paris, another city where the couple lived during their more than 10-year absence from California.

The close ties of O'Neill and her husband with the media were also evident. She reported receiving a $2,000 contribution from William Graham of Brentwood, son of the Washington Post's publisher. Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of Atlantic Monthly, gave $1,000. She received $500 checks from the Universal Press Syndicate and from Vanity Fair writer Gail Sheehy, American Lawyer publisher Steven Brill and Adele Yellin, editor of LA Style magazine.

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