The 1970s were years of brutal attrition in Orange County government. Supervisors, the county assessor and a local congressman were among those who fell from grace with shocking regularity, driven from office by a series of scandals.
By the end of the decade, more than 40 Orange County public officials and their aides had been served with indictments.
Nearly all of the scandals revolved around political fund raising in Orange County, and the frantic pace of the revelations helped fuel a 1978 campaign reform movement. Outraged by the investigations and indictments, reform backers drafted an ordinance they called TINCUP, an acronym for Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics, and more than 1,500 volunteers hit the streets to circulate petitions in support of it.
More than 100,000 county residents signed their names to that petition in just a few months, enough to persuade a vacillating Board of Supervisors to finally adopt it as law.
"I always refer to those days as the wild and woolly West for Orange County," Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, who took office shortly after the board voted on TINCUP, recalled in a recent interview. "Everybody was being indicted or going to jail."
Supervisor Robert W. Battin was the first member of the county board to drop. In 1974, Battin had dismissed the advice of his political associates and launched a futile campaign for lieutenant governor. Four years later, after his conviction for using his county staff to assist in that campaign, a dispirited and empty-handed Battin turned himself in at Orange County Jail.
"I think I was unjustly convicted under the facts," a barely audible Battin said as he made his way toward the check-in area of the jail, accompanied by his girlfriend. "There was no crime committed."
Judges as high as the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. Battin was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $3,500. He did his time in a work-furlough program. He never returned to politics.
Barely had Battin's name disappeared from the front page when another supervisor's legal woes forced him from office as well.
Supervisor Ralph A. Diedrich, known by his colleagues as "Super D" and considered the most powerful Orange County official of his time, lost his seat on the board in 1979 after he and his campaign manager were found guilty of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. County bureaucrats cried openly at Diedrich's last meeting; Supervisor Thomas F. Riley kissed him on the cheek and wished him well.
Prosecutors were less solicitous. They said Diedrich had asked for a bribe from Anaheim Hills Inc. less than a month after taking office in 1973. The supervisor then voted with the 3-2 majority on the board in favor of letting that company develop 2,200 acres that had been set aside as part of an agricultural preserve.
Diedrich was convicted of soliciting bribes and of accepting nearly $30,000 from Anaheim Hills Inc. through his campaign manager and lawyer. His conviction for soliciting the bribes was overturned on appeal, and he then asked the state Supreme Court to throw out the other counts. But the high court refused and left intact the bribery count against Diedrich and conspiracy counts against him and his campaign manager. Diedrich always maintained his innocence, but he went to prison in 1982. The Internal Revenue Service also got a piece of him: It slapped Diedrich with a $4.9-million tax bill for unreported income, including money from bribes, political contributions and business deals.
Diedrich spent two years behind bars and, once out, never returned to Orange County. He died in 1988 in San Diego at the age of 64.
With the dust still swirling from those two scandals, Supervisor Philip L. Anthony hunkered down for a battle of his own. Anthony's troubles had begun years earlier, when the Orange County Grand Jury indicted him, Diedrich and five others on a wide-ranging array of charges relating to their fund raising during the 1976 supervisorial campaign.
Trials in the cases were postponed for years as the defendants mounted one legal challenge after another. Anthony sought reelection under that cloud in 1980, and then-Fountain Valley Councilman Roger R. Stanton walloped him, pulling in 56% of the vote on a shoestring budget.
Anthony eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of campaign fund laundering. He paid a $5,000 fine. And though he went on to work as a lobbyist, Anthony has never attempted a comeback to the board.
Between those investigations and dozens of others involving county political leaders, corruption in the 1970s became bitterly synonymous with government in Orange County. As the end of the decade neared, it had even become the stuff of dark humor.
"My topic today was billed as 'Good Government in Orange County,' " Dist. Atty. Cecil Hicks told an audience of social science and civics teachers in 1977. "I'm sorry, but I thought you wanted more than a two- or three-minute speech."
PAC Contributions, 1977-90 1977: 3.9% 1984: 8.0%1988: 17.5% 1990: 13.4% (Percent of contributions from PACs) 1978: County campaign law, TINCUP, is approved. Takes effect: December. 1980: Two embattled incumbents ousted from office. 1988: PACs make large contributions before statewide initiative caps their giving. 1989: Court voids initiative, ending contribution limits.
All PAC Non-PAC Total: $8,791,204 $821,532 $7,969,672 Average Contribution $459 $790 $440
Note: includes all contributions to supervisors and supervisorial candidates. Source: Campaign disclosure reports.