A former Carter administration nominee who withdrew under fire last November has won an uncertain victory in a San Francisco courtroom.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission late Tuesday settled its lawsuit against Robert H. Mendelsohn, a 40-year-old former San Francisco official commission had accused of violating the state's campaign finance law.
But Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus yesterday declined to say whether he would resubmit Mendelsohn's name to the Secret for confirmation as assistant secretary of the Interior, a $50,000-a-year post in which Mendelson would supervise the department's policy, budget and administration.
In an intricately worded settlement approved by a San Francisco Superior Court, the commission's suit against Mendelsohn and his 1974 campaign committee for state controller was dismissed "with prejudice."
Both sides pronounced themselves satisfied with the result. The commission obtained a $5,000 payment from the campaign committee - but nothing from Mendelsohn - for incorrectly reporting campaign contributions. As part of the settlement the commission said that "the evidence is such that it will not sustain the conclusion" that Mendelsohn had knowledge of a $26,500 contribution illegally funneled into his 1974 campaign.
Mendelsohn, in return, acknowledged that he had been careless in overseeing the reports of his campaign committee.
"It is now clear to me that additional steps should have been taken to ensure more careful recording and reporting of loans and contributions and to ensure that questionable matters were brought to my attention," Mendelsohn said in his statement filed with the court.
The commission had set out to prove that Mendelsohn was "neligent" in allowing $26,500 from Transcentury Properties, a land development firm owned by the Potlatch Corp., to be funneled into his Campaign in a disguished contribution. The court threw out this charge and ruled that the commission would have to show that Mendelson had "actual knowledge" of the source of the transaction.
At the time the contirbutions were made, a Transcentury proposal for a huge bay front housing development was pending before state and regional coastal commissions. Mendelsohn, a San Francisco supervisor, was a member of both commissions and voted for a compromise proposal favorable to Transcentury.
San Francisco District Attorney Joseph Freitas said yesterday that he plans to seek criminal indictments against Transcentury President William Chamberlain and lobbyist William Grader, who gave the money to the Mendelsohn campaign, but not against Mendelsohn.
But in Washington there was no clear signal from Andrus about Mendelsohn's fate. One Senate source close to the case said it is "highly doubtful" if the Senate would confirm Mendelsohn's nomination pending the outcome of actions against Chamberlain and Grader.
Andrus declined to be interviewed about the matter. He issued a statement through his press secretary, Chris Carlson, saying he would read the settlement and then decide whether to review the case.
"He's going to take his time digesting it," Carlson said.
This caution contrasted with Andrus' strong defense of Mendelsohn at the time the nomination was withdrawn Nov. 11, 1977.
Andrus said then that once the court had acted "favorably" he would resubmit Mendelsohn's name to the Senate.
Since last November Mendelsohn has been working as a $168-a day consultant forthe Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.