An unbowed Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) says he has no regrets about his votes on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East issues despite their role in his defeat for reelection -- including their part in motivating a mysterious million-dollar anti-Percy blitz by a California businessman.
In an interview, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said "it would seem grossly unfair" that Californian Michael R. Goland, as an independent citizen, could spend $1 million to $1.6 million for anti-Percy billboard, television, radio and newspaper ads, while contributors to organized political campaigns are limited to $1,000 each.
There is also "something wrong," Percy said, in the fact that Illinois voters did not learn until after the Nov. 6 election that the Federal Election Commission decided Oct. 2 that there was "reason to believe" that Goland's heavy spending in Illinois violated federal law.
"There was an obvious evasion of the law," Percy said. He said it is not his intention to dwell on the past or replay his campaign, but he added, "If it can be done to one person, it can be done to others." U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt, in a ruling Nov. 19, said the FEC's "routine," "casual" and "dilatory" handling of Percy's complaint against Goland was "unreasonable and unacceptable" and that "the commission's failure to take timely action . . . is contrary to law." The FEC's Oct. 2 ruling, a preliminary step in a still-unfinished process, was secret until revealed in Pratt's decision -- too late to help Percy at the polling booths.
Percy said he has never met Goland and never heard from him directly the reasons for his all-out opposition to Percy's reelection. Aides to the senator attributed the Californian's opposition to Percy's voting record on the Middle East, which was a target of a number of Jewish groups. Goland, who has been active in Jewish causes, refused to explain his reasons when queried by the Los Angeles Times and did not respond to telephone inquiries from The Washington Post.
As of yesterday, the FEC had received reports from Goland of spending more than $700,000 to defeat Percy. A source close to Goland here said the final figure would be close to $1.2 million. The Los Angeles Times quoted an unidentified top employe of Goland as saying the figure is $1.6 million.
Goland could spend such a large amount because there is no limit on political expenditures "independent" of any campaign. However, individual contributions to an organized campaign are limited to $1,000, and political action committee contributions to $5,000 per campaign. Percy complained to the FEC that Goland's contributions were not truly independent but illegally coordinated with the campaign efforts of his political opponents.
In addition to the Goland spending, pro-Israeli political action committees spent heavily against Percy. According to a compilation by the National Association of Arab Americans, the campaign of Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who triumphed over Percy last month, received a total of $238,000 from 55 pro-Israeli political action committees, making Simon the top recipient in the nation of funds from this source.
The Arab American compilation said Percy's GOP primary opponent, Rep. Tom Corcoran (R-Ill.), received $51,150 from 21 pro-Israeli political action committees, the tenth-largest sum received by any campaign from this source.
Despite the consequences, said Percy, "I would have voted as I did anyway" to approve the U.S. sale of airborne warning and control system (AWACS) radar planes to Saudi Arabia, one of his positions that drew the ire of Jewish groups. Percy said he was consistent in saying and believing there is "no opportunity for peace in the Middle East unless an entity for Palestinians" is created.
Percy said he will undertake a mission to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka next month with White House blessing to seek to improve U.S. relations with those countries. He said his future beyond that, in business or government, is undecided.