Face Up to It, Rep. Becerra

Shame on Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), a losing candidate in last month’s mayoral primary. How could he not know that his campaign paid for the outrageous phone calls--made in a voice sounding like Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s--that smeared former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa?

If Becerra didn’t know what his campaign was doing on his behalf, he should have. In the end, the dirty trick didn’t help him much. He polled barely 6%. In contrast, Villaraigosa won a spot in the June 5 runoff. That’s justice.

Now that the Becerra campaign’s involvement has been confirmed by the district attorney’s office, the congressman owes apologies to Villaraigosa, Molina and the voters. Although he insists he didn’t know about the calls when they were made, he knows now. He must take responsibility.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley says there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges, even against the campaign manager who, according to a phone bank worker, approved the hit piece. State law prohibits the impersonation of a public official in an attempt to mislead voters. In this case, the caller said she was “Gloria Marina,” which is close to Supervisor Molina’s name but apparently not close enough to be illegal.


And City Councilman Nick Pacheco has some explaining to do, too. Cooley is reviewing the fund-raising activities of a Pacheco organization that may be connected to the Becerra scandal.

A bill, AB 690, by Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), would rightly criminalize unethical behavior of this kind and require identification of whoever paid for automated phone calls. A similar measure, AB 3, introduced by Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), is scheduled to come before the Senate Appropriations Committee today. Both bills should be approved.

Becerra’s campaign paid for the calls. Voters shouldn’t forget that.