WASHINGTON, D.C. If the appearance of “bias” is a concern of US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), she should return at least $5,000 to Handgun Control Inc. before criticizing John Ashcroft about his views on the Second Amendment, a leading firearms civil rights activist said today.

Feinstein announced she would oppose Ashcroft’s confirmation as Attorney General, noting that, “To have an attorney general that is a present member of the NRA certainly shows bias.”

But Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue, WA-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, fired back: “I suppose there’s no bias when Senator Feinstein votes against firearms freedom, while taking money from Handgun Control, Inc. If she wants to avoid the appearance of bias, she should return the $5,000 she received from HCI in 1999.”

Feinstein received two contributions in 1999 for $2,500 apiece from HCI, one on Oct. 1 and the other on Dec. 12, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Feinstein said she will vote against Ashcroft, criticizing the “harshness of his rhetoric,” and calling him “an enormously divisive and polarizing figure.” Feinstein also said Ashcroft’s record “can best be characterized as ultra-right wing.”

Observed Gottlieb: “Calling someone ‘enormously divisive and polarizing,’ and ‘ultra-right wing’ certainly falls under the definition of what I’d call ‘harsh rhetoric,’ and when you look at it, her accusation is pretty ‘divisive and polarizing,’ too.”

“That’s typical of Feinstein’s hypocrisy.” Gottlieb continued, “Take a look at Feinstein’s own voting record, and she could be characterized as ‘ultra-left wing’.”

“But money is a strong influence,” he noted, “so I suspect that Feinstein is not going to close her doors to HCI and other extremist gun control groups. And she’s not going to stop associating with people like HCI’s Sarah Brady or Josh Sugarmann from the Violence Policy Center, or the ultra-liberal partisans from the Million Mom’s March.

“Yet,” Gottlieb said, “she’s willing to condemn Ashcroft for his membership in an association to which outstanding Americans like John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and several other U.S. Presidents have belonged.

“She’s a hypocrite when it comes to freedom of association; a freedom protected by the Constitution, which Feinstein took an oath to defend,” Gottlieb stated.

“How dare Dianne Feinstein, or any other elected official, practice and preach this kind of social bigotry,” Gottlieb concluded. “Dianne Feinstein’s hypocrisy, if nothing else, is world-class, but I guess that’s what you get for $5,000