The state's political watchdog agency today rejected a request that it investigate the actions of two female lobbyists who allegedly engaged in affairs with ex-Assemblyman Mike Duvall.
Duvall, a married Republican, resigned last month after a tape surfaced of him boasting in graphic detail about his sexual trysts with two women. Both of the women referred to in the July conversation, which was recorded by a hot mic during an Assembly committee hearing, are reportedly lobbyists. One has been identified in media reports as a lobbyist for Sempra Energy, a utility company that Duvall was assigned to regulate as vice chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
Common Cause, a government watchdog group, filed a complaint earlier this month asking the Fair Political Practices Commission to look into whether the relationships detailed in the tape violated a section of the Political Reform Act that prohibits lobbyists from performing acts that place elected officials "under personal obligation to the lobbyist."
FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter responded to the Common Cause complaint today, writing in a letter that the FPPC's interpretation of "personal obligation" involves a financial arrangement. Common Cause had argued in its complaint that fear that a partner would publicly disclose or end the extramarital affair could render a lawmaker beholden to the lobbyist.
Porter also wrote that the media reports about the taped comments referenced in the complaint were not sufficient evidence to "provide a factual basis for finding that a violation of the (Political Reform Act) occurred."
"The Commission takes very seriously its role in upholding the public's trust and its officials, whether elected or appointed. However, it does not have the statutory authority to investigate the personal relationships between lobbyists and elected officials," Porter wrote.
The FPPC's decision not to investigate the actions exhausts one of the last remaining avenues for determining whether the behavior alleged in the tapes constitutes any legal or ethical violations.
Duvall's resignation, which he said in a statement is not an admission that he had affairs but a reflection of "inappropriate storytelling," severed any authority the Assembly Ethics Committee had to investigate the matter, according to an opinion by the Legislature's attorney. The Sempra lobbyist identified in the complaint has also denied an affair, and Sempra officials have said they are conducting an internal investigation into the allegations. The Attorney General's Office has said there is not sufficient evidence to pursue a criminal investigation.
Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng lamented the FPPC's decision and renewed her organization's call for lawmakers to enact new codes of ethics governing the relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.
"We're now looking at the travesty that a lawmaker can engage in this type of behavior and there is apparently not a single law or entity that will even be able to investigate the situation," Feng said. "The Legislature needs to step up to the plate and look at itself and pass appropriate code of ethics for requiring lawmakers to refrain from legislating under the influence."
Feng also said she has concerns about how effective Assembly Speaker Karen Bass's call for the ethics panel to propose new guidelines for keeping relationships between legislators and lobbyists, "totally above-board and consistent with the public's best interests" will ultimately prove.
"I think that there's going to be a need for a lot of pressure to ensure that the Assembly and Senate lives up to that promise because there's every reason to stay on good terms with the lobby core," she said. "We have a lot of legislators who are privately acknowledging that this is bad behavior but publicly being very reluctant to call on increased lobbyist disclosure ... because unfortunately their bread is still buttered by the lobbyists."
Read the complaint here.