City attorney fines Ashbaugh for campaign misconduct
October 27, 2012
San Luis Obpispo City Attorney Christine Dietrick fined Councilman John Ashbaugh $252 Friday for accepting an illegal campaign contribution from County Supervisor Adam Hill.
Ashbaugh admitted to receiving two bottles of wine from Hill in addition to a $200 check, which together exceed the campaign contribution limit that Ashbaugh voted into place. Although Ashbaugh said he reimbursed Hill $30 for the wine, Dietrick determined the bottles to be worth $84. Ordinance 1538, for which Ashbaugh voted three times, requires candidates to pay the city three times the amount of any illegal contribution. Thus, Dietrick fined Ashbaugh $252.
Prior to making the excessive contribution, Hill emailed Ashbaugh to inform him that he planned to do so. Ashbaugh then responded to Hill using his city account to solicit the donation, a violation of state Government Code 8314, an offense Hill too committed while running for reelection.
Dietrick did not take action against Ashbaugh for the improper email he sent to Hill, nor for the numerous other campaign related emails he admitted to sending from his city account. The city attorney said in a statement Friday that she does not have jurisdiction to enforce violations of the government code pertaining to that issue. Dietrick did, however, warn all council and mayoral candidates Wednesday not to use city email for campaign purposes after yet another personal email Ashbaugh sent from his city account surfaced earlier that day.
The investigation into Ashbaugh’s campaign code violations came as a result of a complaint filed by council candidates Kevin Rice and Matt Strzpek and mayoral candidates Steve Barasch and Donald Hedrick.
In addition to the charges of improper use of city email and soliciting a donation above the $200 limit, the four candidates also accused Ashbaugh of filing a campaign disclosure after the deadline. While Dietrick acknowledged that Ashbaugh filed the disclosure late, she did not take any action against him on the matter, stating that the city clerk used “reasonable discretion” in accepting the campaign statement without penalty.
Despite Dietrick’s decision to only take action on one of the three charges in the complaint, the four complainants issued a joint statement Friday announcing their satisfaction with the city attorney’s findings.
“The city attorney’s settlement with John Ashbaugh applies fairness and restraint while acknowledging misdeeds did occur,” the candidates said.