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Opinion

Readers React: Campaign donations should be for campaigns, not sexual harassment legal defense funds

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Tony Mendoza, a former state senator, has asked to set up a legal defense fund help pay the cost of fighting allegations of wrongful termination and sexual misconduct involving several women.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: We strongly disagree with your editorial, “Why sexually harassing pols, unfortunately, should be able to use campaign funds for their legal defense.” We believe the state Fair Political Practices Commission’s present course, which is to disallow the use of campaign funds for defense expenses in sexual harassment and abuse claims, and also to seek legislation to further clarify this position, is the right policy.

Your editorial objects to our “singling out” of sexual harassment and abuse, suggesting that any and all crimes an officeholder might commit on the job should be treated alike.

We would like to point out, however, that we haven’t seen officeholders robbing banks, stealing cars or committing securities fraud on the job, then seeking to raise political money to defend themselves. We have seen officeholders being accused of abusing and harassing staff and other individuals in the workplace, then seeking to raise funds from supporters to assist in their defense.

We are mindful of the burden over-regulation imposes on the candidates and activists we regulate. We choose to resolve the real problem in front of us with an appropriately tailored solution.

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We should add that this kind of violation is different in important ways from others. We are both women with experience in politics, campaigns and in staffing for elected officials. Abuse and harassment in politics often happens among people who are political allies or employees. The victim is thus easier to intimidate and silence than, say, workers at a bank that was robbed.

Finally, our action levels the playing field in requiring officeholders and candidates to rely on personal funds, not money raised from well-heeled supporters, when defending themselves in these situations. After all, the abuse victim doesn’t have a committee.

Alice Germond, Sacramento, and Allison Hayward, Cambria, Calif.

The writers are, respectively, chairwoman and commissioner of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

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