Land of sunny skies, surf and sand, and…
Sexual misconduct in its legislature:
The skies, surf and sand are glorious – so much so that California is the most popular state for vacations.
The California Legislators, however…not so popular.
Especially since the above story broke earlier this month.
Just think…more than $1.8 million of our tax dollars were spent in 13 months investigating sexual misconduct in our legislature. That’s almost $141,000 per month.
And $141,000 is more than twice the annual median household income in California.
Spent every month from January 2018 to January 2019.
I’m betting more than a few Californians are not happy about this.
I’m betting more than a few could come up with better ways to spend $1.8 million+.
A number of current or former lawmakers faced allegations of misconduct during those 13 months and here are nine of them. Keep in mind that these were not the only persons investigated for sexual misconduct; they are just the legislators on a list thoughtfully provided by The Sacramento Bee:
|Investigators substantiated allegations he followed a lobbyist into a bathroom and began masturbating in front of her at an event in Las Vegas in 2016. The Democrat resigned but denies the allegations and sued the lobbyist for defamation.|
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia
|She was cleared of allegations she groped a former legislative staff member in 2014 but investigators found she used vulgar language in violation of the chamber’s sexual harassment policies. The Democrat won re-election in 2018.|
Assemblyman Devon Mathis
|He was reprimanded for making sexual comments about other lawmakers, described by investigators as “locker room talk.” The Republican won re-election in 2018.|
|Investigators say he harassed several women while serving as an Assembly staff member about a decade ago. In one case, he put a subordinate’s bracelet down his pants and asked her to retrieve it. The Democrat resigned in late 2017 but maintained his innocence.|
|Investigators found he likely forcibly kissed a woman. The Democrat denies the allegations but resigned in late 2017, citing health reasons.|
Former Senator Tony Mendoza
|Investigators say he likely engaged in unwanted “flirtatious or sexually suggestive” behavior with six women, including four subordinates, a lobbyist and a young woman in a fellowship program. The behavior included offering a 19-year-old intern alcohol in a hotel suite at a Democratic Party event. The Democrat resigned in February 2018 but denied wrongdoing.|
Senator Bob Hertzberg
|Investigators found he gave people hugs that made them uncomfortable but concluded it wasn’t meant to be sexual. The Democrat stayed in office.|
Senator John Moorlach
|Investigators say he gave a woman a “noogie,” but did not intend it to be sexual. The Republican still is in office.|
Former Senator Joel Anderson
|Investigators say he threatened to slap a lobbyist at a bar near the Capitol, which he denied, and rubbed her shoulders. Anderson, a Republican, was termed out of office in 2018 and lost a bid for a seat on a state tax board.|
We have to spend taxpayer money on state senators and assembly persons and staff persons who think…what?
I can’t tell you what they were thinking, but I can tell you what they (or their mouthpiece) were saying:
Oh, I get it. They’re the victims.
And…it gets worse.
In February 2018 the Los Angeles Times provided this helpful graphic summarizing allegations of sexual harassment by California legislators and staff by from 2006 to 2017:
The LA Times called it “the most detailed information, to date, of workplace sexual misconduct investigations at the Capitol in Sacramento and legislative district office across the state.”
But make no mistake. See that spike in 2017? While there may have been an increase in misconduct, that spike was also due to the increase in reported misconduct.
Remember 2017? The year of the #MeToo movement?
And oh, how people talked. Here are some (but far from all) of the allegations:
- Sharing pornographic photos.
- Sticking his hands in a women’s blouse at a nightclub.
- Grabbing a woman’s buttocks and genitals.
- Bawdy office banter, unwanted propositions, uninvited touching.
- Sexually explicit talk in the workplace, including inappropriate conversation regarding anal sex with Capitol office staff.
- Inappropriate bodily contact.
Faced with a tsunami of misconduct allegations – and the #MeToo movement – our politicians did what politicians do:
Spend more money.
Form a committee.
That committee eventually led to the formation of another committee, though in this case it’s called a “unit.”
Specifically, the “Workplace Conduct Unit,” or WCU:
On January 18, 2019 Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins proudly announced the California Legislature’s “landmark independent Workplace Conduct Unit, along with a panel of legal experts to review cases,” beginning effective operation on February 1, 2019.
Atkins’ announcement clarifies that:
The Workplace Conduct Unit will:
- Receive all reports alleging workplace conduct violations that affect protected groups in the Senate and the Assembly.
- Assure independent and confidential investigation of allegations.
- Summarize the evidence for the panel to review.
And then the Workplace Conduct Panel will:
- Review investigations referred by the WCU, working in subgroups of three panelists.
- Make recommendations to the relevant house, Assembly or Senate, consistent with the facts found by the panel.
What Atkins’ announcement didn’t talk about was the cost of these units and panels and subgroups and stuff.
But the Associated Press did.
Remember that original $1,831,000 spent on sexual misconduct investigations from January 2018 to January 2019?
Our politicians also spent $1.5 million to get the Workplace Conduct Unit office up and running.
And the Workplace Conduct Unit has a proposed annual budget of $1.7 million.
And some investigations could still be sent to outside lawyers.
And we taxpayers aren’t off the hook yet.
Because every time there’s a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct and a settlement is paid…
We pay for that, too.
And nobody knows – and the Legislature mostly isn’t telling – what’s been paid out over who-knows-how-many years in settlements.
The Associated Press article did cite one instance of the Senate paying “a $350,000 settlement to an employee who said the chamber failed to accommodate her needs after she alleged an Assembly employee raped her.”
And an April 2018 article in the Sacramento Bee listed a $20,000 settlement in 1996; a $117,200 settlement in 1998; and a $117,000 settlement in 2001.
Rest assured, this is just a smattering.
It is possible that someday we taxpayers will be off the hook from paying for sexual misconduct settlements – in February, Assemblyman Steven Choi introduced a bill that would ban the use of taxpayer money on settlements:
AB-1094 “would, in an action alleging conduct by a Member of the Legislature that constitutes sexual harassment, as defined, prohibit either house of the Legislature from paying any compromise or settlement of the action.”
But there’s some irony in that, as we speak, we are paying California legislators to pass a bill that says we can stop paying for their sexual misconduct settlements.
And we’re still on the hook for at least $1.7 million a year for the Workplace Conduct Unit.
Perhaps legislative staff member Elyse Gore put it best when she said, “We have work to do…The best outcome is we create a culture in which this doesn’t happen in the first place.”
“Doesn’t happen in the first place.”
What a concept.
But in the meantime, for us taxpayers…