Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Calif.) repeatedly told a political opponent's campaign manager, who was secretly wired for sound, that she wanted no "quid pro quo" for helping to retire the rival candidate's campaign debts, a supporter of the indicted Fiedler said today.
The source provided the first eyewitness account of a key meeting Jan. 12 that led to the indictment and has thrown the California Republican Party into turmoil.
Other sources provided accounts of several secretly taped conversations arranged by prosecutors and aides to Fiedler's adversary, Ed Davis.
The disclosures followed the Los Angeles County grand jury's decision Thursday to charge Fiedler and her top aide, Paul Clarke, with offering Davis $100,000 to drop out of the U.S. Senate race. Davis is a state senator and former Los Angeles police chief.
Fiedler and Clarke have declined to comment, on advice of attorneys, about meetings with Davis' aides.
But one participant in the Jan. 12 meeting at Fiedler's San Fernando Valley home said today that Fiedler told Davis' campaign manager, Martha Zilm, that any help Fiedler might give Davis would be "as a friend" and that she wanted "no guarantees" of what Davis might do about his campaign.
The participant, a Fiedler supporter who asked not to be identified, said a Davis backer had approached Fiedler aides to say Davis had decided to pull out of the race for lack of funds.
Fiedler's aides, the source said, thought that they were discussing a way to promote GOP unity by helping Davis retire his debt and perhaps receive his endorsement in turn.
Fiedler, whose conservative suburban district overlaps with that of Davis, told Zilm, "If I can help Ed, it will only be as a friend," the participant said. Unknown to Fiedler, Zilm was wired for sound.
District Attorney Ira Reiner's office has not released a transcript of the conversation, "but once it does it will show that Bobbi is innocent," the source said.
The source expressed hope that Fiedler's version of events would vindicate her soon and keep her among front-runners in the crowded June primary to pick a GOP challenger to Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
Sources on both sides of the controversy noted today that, although the statute under which Fiedler and Clarke were charged has been state law in some form since 1905, it apparently has not been used.
The law makes it a felony to "directly or through any other person advance, pay, solicit or receive or cause to be advanced, paid, solicited, or received any money or any other valuable consideration . . . . to induce a person not to become or withdraw as a candidate for public office."
A Fiedler aide said her advisers were unaware of the law during discussions with Davis' aides, but refrained from offering money in exchange for Davis dropping out because they considered that unethical.
Reiner's office continued to decline comment today on reports that evidence was presented to the grand jury with a recommendation that no indictments be issued.
Fiedler, 48, had announced that she was yielding her House seat to run for the Senate, and Clarke, 39, is considered her closest personal friend and political adviser. They could be sentenced to as much as three years in prison, if convicted.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Sowders indicated Friday that a much lighter penalty, such as probation, would be more likely. If convicted, Fiedler would be barred from running for public office until she completed her sentence.
According to sources close to the case, the first important incident in the two months before Fiedler's indictment occurred in early November when Arthur S. Pfefferman, a San Fernando businessman and Fiedler supporter who had contributed to Davis' campaigns, contacted George E. Moss, a developer who supports Davis.
According to these sources, Pfefferman said he understood that Davis might drop out, then asked if Davis could be persuaded to endorse Fiedler. Pfefferman reportedly suggested that Fiedler might help Davis with his campaign debt.
Davis indicated Friday that he was told that Fiedler was offering to help with his debt if he dropped out. A Fiedler aide said their side's version of the first conversation was that Davis had already decided to quit the race.
Davis said he had no intention of quitting, thought the offer might violate the law and contacted several attorneys, including Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury.
With Los Angeles prosecutors' knowledge and technical assistance, Zilm undertook meetings, some secretly recorded, with Clarke, Fiedler and Arnold Steinberg, Fiedler's consultant and pollster.
One Fiedler supporter said Zilm met twice in December with Steinberg at restaurants, saw Clarke once and had at least one telephone conversation with Fiedler. "All the approaches were from their Davis' side," a Fiedler aide said.
During her first meeting with Steinberg, a Fiedler aide said, Zilm said Moss had told her that Fiedler would pay off Davis' $100,000 campaign debt if he withdrew and endorsed her.
At the climactic Jan. 12 meeting, Fiedler emphatically rejected this characterization, a Fiedler aide said. "We said there were no guarantees," the source said. "Bobbi told her at least twice this was not 'quid pro quo.' " The source said Davis was expected at the meeting but did not appear.
Davis' press secretary, Eric Rose, said today that neither Zilm nor any other Davis staffer would comment on the investigation. Pfefferman, Moss, Fiedler and Steinberg could not be reached.