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Karl Employees Said They Were Pressured to Make Campaign Donations

February 1, 1988

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ Employees of video producer Stuart Karl said they believed they were acting legally when they contributed to political campaigns and were allegedly reimbursed by their boss, a published report said Sunday.

Karl, 34, the former surfer who became a multimillionaire with the the Jane Fonda Workout and Playboy videos he produced, has not been located for comment since the allegations surfaced earlier this month. Several employees, however, told the Orange County Register how they became involved.

Most of the 40 employees of Karl Home Video were not registered to vote nor active in politics. But they soon found themselves rubbing shoulders with Gary Hart, Ethel Kennedy, Jane Fonda, Debra Winger, Donna Mills and Larry Hagman at lavish fund-raisers in the cash-for-check scheme, now under investigation by the Department of Justice.

Janice Benlein told the Register she was working as an executive assistant at Karl Home Video in the summer of 1986 when her boss asked her to contribute $500 - one week’s salary - to the congressional campaign of Orange County Superior Court Judge David Carter.

When she said she couldn’t afford the contribution, she was told her boss, Karl, president of Karl Lorimar, would pay her back, the newspaper said.

″I had only been in the job a couple of weeks,″ Ms. Benlein told the newspaper. ″What was I going to do, say no to the president of the company?″

Many employees of Karl Home Video, which eventually merged with Lorimar Telepictures to become Karl-Lorimar Home Video, found themselves in the same predicament, the newspaper reported.

About 40 of those workers would allegedly make $36,000 in contributions to the Democratic campaigns of presidential candidate Gary Hart, Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and the unsuccessful congressional bids of Carter and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Baltimore.

An aide of Kerry, Francis Zwenig, said Saturday the senator has returned campaign contributions made by the Karl employees. Zwenig said the donations were refunded in letters dated Jan. 28.

The Register reported that Federal Election Commission records show that Kerry, who was elected to his first term in 1984, received $6,250 from 13 employees of Karl’s now defunct video marketing company.

″Most of those, 95 percent, are bogus contributions,″ Karl’s former executive assistant, Rama White Middel, told the Register.

″As with the other campaigns, the employees were repaid by me with cash from Stuart’s personal bank account,″ Middel said.

The employees said they were pressured into making campaign donations.

Nick Norton was told by Karl that he was being considered for a promotion. At the same time, Karl asked Norton to take out a $1,000 loan for the Hart campaign.

″Pressure? What else would you call it?″ Norton said. ″Everybody’s got to eat.″

The employees said they were also ordered to appear at the fundraisers, often held at their boss’ Newport Beach home.

″We all figured we might as well go to the parties,″ said Linda Cacia, a former secretary. ″There was a lot of good food and free booze.″

Most of the soliciting was done by Middel, who joined the company in 1984. Middel said she thought the reimbursement scheme was legal.

″I was doing everything that Stuart told me to do,″ she said. ″He told me this is the way you raise money for campaigns. Who was I to argue?″

In addition to the bogus employee contributions, former workers said Karl gave $173,000 to Hart’s campaigns that was not reported to the Federal Election Commission. Federal law prohibits individual contributions exceeding $1,000.

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