Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) has complained that last November’s voter-approved ceiling on an individual’s donations to a politician will limit his ability to defend himself against criminal charges. His worries appear exaggerated; in any event, the contributions limit is a good one.
Americans have been trying for decades to curb the pernicious influence of money on politics. It has been a needed effort. From Watergate onward, there have been periodic attempts to limit campaign contributions. That has produced new legal methods to evade limitations. Last year’s Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns raised over $500 million between them, a staggering sum. The Democratic Party has returned more than $1 million in questionable donations to donors, most it from Asian and Asian American sources.
In California, voters last November wisely passed Proposition 208, imposing limits of $250 in personal contributions to state lawmakers in each campaign season, meaning two years for an Assembly member. That is the limit that has upset Baugh.
Baugh has been charged with misreporting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign loans and contributions in his first campaign for the Assembly, in 1995, in which he replaced recalled Assemblywoman Doris Allen. Baugh has pleaded not guilty.
Baugh says he has spent more than $100,000 in his defense and estimates he will need another $100,000 to $200,000. The politician called it “virtually impossible” for him to raise those amounts in chunks of $250.
But raising $100,000 should not be that difficult, even with the $250 limitation. Assembly candidates routinely raise more than that when they run for office.
The cap was designed to prevent individuals or corporations appearing to buy access to a politician with hefty donations. The limitation applies to campaigns, but also is pertinent to legal defenses.
Baugh contends Proposition 208 limits his ability to defend himself. But for most criminal defendants, those who are not politicians, the size of their bankbooks restricts how much they can pay for a defense. In the unlikely event Baugh cannot tap donors, he could pay for his defense himself.