Campaign Laws Aim to Stifle Pro-Gun Activist

by Larry Pratt

Russ Howard, a former NRA director, was one of the principal architects of ending the political career of rabidly anti-gun State Senator David Roberti of California. Howard now faces an $808,000 fine.

Roberti and Assemblyman Mike Roos were the chief sponsors of the legislation that banned semi-automatic firearms. They pushed it in the name of fighting crime, even though then Attorney General Van de Kamp had found that the targeted weapons were involved in less than one percent of the state's homicides.

Howard was a volunteer with Citizens Against Corruption (CAC) in 1990 when the group spearheaded a campaign against Roos. While Roos was re-elected, his amazingly small margin prompted his resignation a few months later after CAC announced preparations for a recall campaign.

CAC employed a re-mail technique to leverage the relatively scarce grassroots dollars they had raised to use against Roos. They made voter names in Roos' district available to volunteers, with a letter explaining why Roos should be voted out of office. The volunteers mailed the letters in their own envelopes into Roos' district.

CAC volunteers bore all the expenses themselves. These donations were independent expenditures that were way less than what would be required to be reported to the state's speech police, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Later the Commission would include non-reporting of unknowable independent volunteer expenses as part of the unconstitutionally draconian fine (the Eighth Amendment bars excessive fines).

In 1992, Howard became executive director of Citizens Against Corruption. Because redistricting had unfavorably shifted David Roberti's old Hollywood district, he ran that year in a special election for a Senate seat that was vacated when one of his cronies went to prison for extortion. It was a safe Democratic district, but the hope was to force him to spend enough in the primary to wound him. CAC's efforts indeed resulted in Roberti spending $2,500,000 on the primary and the runoff.

Roberti raised so much money that other campaigns around the state were harmed because money they might have raised went to Roberti instead. Partly because Democrats worried that he might do it again, he later had to step down as President of the Senate.

Immediately after Roberti limped into the runoff primary victory circle, CAC began planning a recall campaign on him. The April 1994 legislative recall was the first to qualify for the ballot since 1914. Roberti had about maxed out his political credit card with Democrat donors. And what made them even less inclined to extend him more political financing was the fact that he was to be term-limited out at the end of 1994.

Moreover, Roberti had announced his candidacy for the State Treasurer's office. That primary was scheduled for June 1994, just a few weeks after the recall. This jacked his need for campaign funds much higher, even while his credit limit with fellow-Democrats was being exhausted.

Roberti survived the recall, but only by a small margin. The primary election for Treasurer was just a few weeks away, and Roberti lost. He blamed the "gun lobby" for ending his career by exhausting his resources.

But Howard learned that fighting people like Roberti was a contact sport. During the petition campaign to force the recall election, the firm getting signed petitions for Citizens Against Corruption explained that Roberti had made them too good an offer.

Moreover, the recall Chairman, Bill Dominguez, was personally victimized. His firearms collection was stolen from his house. Even though Dominguez never reported the theft to the press, Roberti's campaign began gloating within hours that an "arsenal" had been stolen.

Howard received death threats. CAC Chairman Richard Carone and his wife received lewd and threatening calls. Donors complained of harassment. CAC headquarters was burglarized, and Roberti claimed to have a "mole" in the campaign. It appeared that part of CAC's mailing list had been stolen and that political hate mail was being sent to members.

In view of Roberti's great power, his dirty colleagues and the very real threats being made, Howard chose to withhold the full identities of CAC's donors, although the donation amounts were reported. This decision was consistent with Supreme Court rulings that have held that disclosure must be waived in such conditions.

The Fair Political Practices Commission did not see it that way. It held that donor identities should have been reported along with all the volunteers who re-mailed anti-Roberti letters. Contrary to the law that prohibits stacking by one party, two of the five Commission seats were vacant during the time in question, enabling Roberti's pals to do their evil deeds in darkness.

Now Howard is in court. The FPPC wants to make the $808,000 fine a court judgment. The trial judge is none other than Lloyd Connelly, a former anti-gun assemblyman and political ally of Mike Roos and David Roberti. Connelly has admitted that Roos donated $5,000 to one of his campaigns, and that Roberti paid $12,000 to Connelly's law firm.

But, Judge Connelly says that there is no conflict here, and that is why he said nothing of it until he was confronted with it. And of course, he is not willing to recuse himself.

The anti-gun extremists in California are trying to do to Howard what he did to Roberti. But whereas Howard worked through the electoral process with money voluntarily given for the cause, Roberti, Roos and Connelly are using tax money to conduct a vendetta through the machinery of government.

Please step up to the plate. Don't let Russ Howard be hung out to dry. He desperately needs funds to pay his legal bills.

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