SLO candidates accuse Ashbaugh of election code violations
October 23, 2012
San Luis Obispo City Council candidate Kevin Rice filed a complaint with the city clerk Tuesday accusing his opponent, incumbent John Ashbaugh, of misusing city resources to benefit his campaign and violating a campaign finance code that the councilman voted into place.
Rice’s complaint, signed additionally by council candidate Matt Strzepek and mayoral candidates Steve Barasch and Donald Hedrick, documents 14 separate emails pertaining to campaign matters that Ashbaugh sent from his city account. California Government Code section 8314 prohibits the use of public resources for campaign matters.
On September 25, in response to a public records request, Ashbaugh stated in an email to City Clerk Maeve Grimes that he had once used his city email for campaign purposes, changing his initial report that he had never done so. Ashbaugh acknowledged sending the one email to San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill.
“Mea Culpa,” Ashbaugh wrote to Grimes.
Yet, Rice’s complaint provides 13 additional emails Ashbaugh sent from his city account addressing campaign matters, including another conversation with Hill. In addition to the messages Ashbaugh sent, Rice included examples of emails Mayor Jan Marx and Councilman Dan Carpenter sent in response to inquiries about their campaigns. Both Marx and Carpenter acknowledged that they could not address campaign issues using their city emails and wrote that they would do so using personal accounts.
The candidates also accused Ashbaugh of two violations of city campaign finance code: soliciting a contribution above the city’s $200 limit and late filing of financial disclosures.
On Jan. 19, 2010, Ashbaugh voted as part of a unanimous council to adopt Ordinance 1538, which prohibited soliciting and accepting individual contributions exceeding $200 in San Luis Obispo elections. Ashbaugh also voted in favor of the ordinance when introduced on Dec. 15, 2009 and reintroduced on Jan. 5, 2010.
Yet, in one of Ashbaugh’s public email swaps with Hill, the councilman solicited a donation exceeding $200 from the supervisor. Hill wrote Ashbaugh saying he would send a $200 check and bring a couple bottles of wine to a campaign event.
“Sounds good — and the wine would be very welcome,” Ashbaugh responded.
Although the solicited monetary donation did not exceed $200, Ashbaugh also requested the wine bottles, which constitute a non-monetary donation.
The final accusation in the complaint — late filing of a campaign disclosure — also violates the municipal election code Ashbaugh voted three times to amend. In voting for Ordinance 1538, Ashbaugh voted to require candidates to file campaign financial statements after the conclusion of filing periods and before the deadlines.
But, Ashbaugh failed to file his disclosure on time for the campaign period ending June 30. The city clerk received his statement on August 3, three days after the July 31 deadline.
The ordinance for which Ashbaugh voted in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010 stated that promoting “integrity, honesty and fairness in municipal election campaigns” was the intent and purpose of the regulations.