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ELECTIONS / 24TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT : Sybert Blasts Beilenson’s Political Digging

TIMES STAFF WRITER

GOP congressional challenger Richard Sybert on Friday accused U.S. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson(D-Woodland Hills) of waging a disgraceful reelection campaign aimed at digging up political dirt on Sybert rather than debating him squarely on public policy issues.

Prompting these angry remarks was Sybert’s discovery that a private researcher, using the state Public Records Act, recently obtained an inch-thick file of phone and travel records related to Sybert’s former work as director of Gov. Pete Wilson’s Office of Planning and Research.

Claiming he has nothing to hide, Sybert, who is running against Beilenson in the 24th Congressional District, held a news conference to release these same records to the media. Among the documents were travel expense claims for about $12,500 that Sybert had submitted over the nearly three-year period he served as director.

“I’m frankly offended at this,” Sybert said. “They’re spending money to root around in my garbage, and Beilenson is not even man enough to do it himself.”

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Bret Jonas, who made the request for the records, refused Friday to disclose the name of his employer or client. But later, Craig Miller, Beilenson’s political consultant, confirmed that Jonas was employed by the state Democratic Party to research the public records of GOP candidates, including Sybert.

“I think what this shows is that Tony Beilenson, despite his brave facade, is running scared,” Sybert said. “He dodges debates and digs in my garbage. I find it instructive that they did not ask for any of the policy papers issued by the planning office when I was there.”

Sybert recently accused Beilenson of refusing to debate him. In fact, Beilenson promised to debate Sybert but only after the congressional recess in mid-October. Earlier debates would be pointless because voters won’t focus on the election until the final weeks, Beilenson has said.

Miller called Sybert’s reaction to the public records request “paranoid and ridiculous.”

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Sybert “should expect to be held accountable for his activities while in public office,” Miller said. “It is quite routine for officials to have their records examined. . . . It sounds to me like he must have something to hide.”

Miller said the Democratic party actually contracted with Jonas to do the “opposition research” on Sybert, and that the party decided what records to seek. Finance statements show that Beilenson received “in-kind research” assistance from the Democratic Party valued at $3,750.

Miller said he had not had time to review the Sybert documents to determine if they contained signs of spending irregularities. “I honestly don’t know what they contain,” he said.

Sybert got the tip-off about the public records request from his former colleagues in the Office of Planning and Research. “Rich was talking on the phone to my deputy, Phil Romero, and I told him to tell Rich that we had gotten the request,” Lee Grissom, the office’s current chief, said in an interview Friday. Grissom said Sybert did not try to influence his handling of the request, although he acknowledged that Sybert had called him at home to discuss what would be disclosed.

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