Capitol lobbyist Clayton R. Jackson responded Tuesday to felony political corruption charges in the way he knows best--by launching a lobbying campaign to convince the public that he is innocent and that his chief accuser, former Sen. Alan Robbins, is a perjurer and a pervert.
Jackson, the first major lobbyist to be indicted in an ongoing federal corruption investigation of state government, held a news conference and authorized a legal defense committee to seek cash and moral support from fellow lobbyists.
In U.S. District Court, Jackson, 50, entered his plea to 10 counts of racketeering, mail fraud and money laundering. Speaking in a booming, resonant voice, Jackson said he was "not guilty on each and every count."
His co-defendant, former state Sen. Paul B. Carpenter, 65, pleaded innocent to charges of mail fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Carpenter also faces a retrial in May on federal corruption charges in an unrelated case.
Both men remain free without bail.
The usually reticent Jackson stepped into the spotlight Tuesday, speaking to reporters at a restaurant-bar that is popular with the lobbying corps. He said the grand jury indictment returned against him last month is nothing more than a misguided attack on how the Legislature raises campaign funds.
"It's pretty clear to me that this is an attack on the contribution system," Jackson said.
He is accused of using campaign contributions as bribes to gain control of the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee, which was chaired by Robbins. Robbins is serving a five-year term on racketeering, tax evasion and bank fraud charges and has been cooperating with authorities in their investigation of Jackson.
Jackson defended his profession as being essential to democracy. "Yet the public generally doesn't know what it is we do except from time to time we are trotted out and demonized and trotted back in."
Even as Jackson was appearing in court, his supporters were appealing for contributions to pay for his legal fees.
Among those who have signed on to help him with his defense are some of the most formidable lobbyists in the Capitol, including George Steffes, a former aide to Gov. Ronald Reagan, and John F. Foran, a San Francisco Democrat who served with Robbins in the state Senate.
Letters were sent to lobbyists late last week. Accompanying the appeal was a letter from Jackson's attorney Donald H. Heller outlining Jackson's defense.
"The accusations came only after Robbins negotiated an advantageous plea bargain that requires him to cooperate in building a legal case against Clay--'singing for his supper,' " Heller wrote.
In the letter Heller described tapes of conversations with Jackson recorded by Robbins in 1991. The tapes, he asserted, "reveal that Clay was extorted by Alan Robbins for a quarter of a million dollars and Clay Jackson produced not one dime!"
He also contended that the defense has evidence that two of Robbins' sworn statements against Jackson are false but that the prosecution "has simply closed its eyes to the truth."
The appeal for funds already has raised more than $20,000, said Peter B. Necarsulmer, a public relations consultant and longtime friend of Jackson's.
The effort on Jackson's behalf drew a mixed reaction Tuesday from some lobbyists, including those who wondered why a lobbyist whose firm last year took in $2.1 million needs financial help for his defense.
"It's a joke," said one lobbyist, who asked not to be identified. "The man has million-dollar clients. . . . It's a gimmick to look like lobbyists are rallying around him." Another veteran lobbyist said that the effort to aid Jackson was a public relations disaster for the profession. "The public perception has got to be: a lobbyist gets indicted and all the other lobbyists are there to help him with contributions."
However, others are more receptive to the appeal from a colleague in trouble. "I'm sympathetic whether he is proven guilty or innocent," lobbyist Steffes said. "The financial drain on him personally could ruin him for the rest of his life."
John A. Norwood, another lobbyist, said part of the reason he lent his name to the Jackson defense committee is because he sees the profession under attack. He said that many of the circumstances surrounding the case "could apply to any of us."
Jackson's lawyer emphasized again Tuesday that the key to the defense strategy is attacking Robbins' credibility as a witness.
In particular, Heller cited the 1981 trial of Robbins on felony charges of having sex with underage girls. Robbins was acquitted on all counts.
But Heller said that "Robbins was a pervert and was known to be (one) in the Legislature."
Heller said he intended to prove that at the 1981 trial, the then-senator committed perjury so that he could "keep himself from going to prison for statutory rape." Heller would not describe evidence that might corroborate his assertion.
Robbins' attorney, Michael L. Lipman, said that the attacks on his client were "classic examples of trying to divert attention from the real issues of the case."
Both he and assistant U.S. Atty. John K. Vincent said that Robbins, 52, would prove to be a credible witness once all the facts were presented to a jury.
Times staff writer Carl Ingram also contributed to this story.