Lawmaker Charged for Promising to Donate Part of Salary to Students
LEBANON, Mo. (AP) _ A lawmaker who campaigned on a promise to donate some of his salary for scholarships actually was trying to buy votes from the students’ parents, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
But a defense lawyer for freshman state Rep. Martin ″Bubs″ Hohulin said the Republican’s campaign promise was protected by the First Amendment.
Hohulin, a 26-year-old hog farmer, promised last fall to donate $2,800 of his $22,863 annual House salary for scholarships for high school students in his southwest Missouri district.
Hohulin never had a chance to make good on the promise. He was charged in January with a misdemeanor election law violation.
After a 20-minute hearing, Circuit Court Judge Mary Dickerson said she would rule within two weeks on a defense motion to dismiss the charge.
If convicted, Hohulin faces up to one year in prison, $2,500 in fines and the possible loss of his House seat.
Special prosecutor John Beger told the court the promise was akin to trying to buy votes from the student’s parents. ″It jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process,″ Beger said.
But defense attorney Dwight Douglas said a principal theme of Hohulin’s campaign was that Missouri legislators are paid too much.
He said state election law is aimed at preventing private deals for political support in exchange for an officeholder’s pay.
″This was a public promise. It was not conditioned upon any person or group voting for Hohulin,″ Douglas said.
Hohulin did not attend the hearing.
″He’s cutting hay,″ Douglas said, ″and he said he’d leave the legal work to me.″ The lawmaker didn’t answer calls to his home Wednesday, and Douglas said he had told Hohulin not to talk to reporters.
After the hearing, Beger said the case was complex.
″I do have mixed feelings about prosecuting a politician for promising to line someone else’s pockets,″ he said.