The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the state’s campaign watchdog agency, is seeking to pursue a law change to clear up confusion after an attorney for one former state lawmaker argued political funds could be used to fight harassment claims. If the proposed legislation is passed, elected officials accused of harassment or discrimination would be barred from using political contributions to cover their legal defense costs. Last year, Cassandra Ferrannini, an attorney for former state Senator Tony Mendoza, sought a formal opinion from the FPPC after the Senate launched an investigation against Mendoza regarding him allegedly engaging in harassment against female aides. The Senate investigation concluded that Mendoza did likely engaged in a pattern of harassment against female aides. Commission Chairwoman Alice Germond stated the following regarding the proposed legislation,
As chair, I would like to show the public their lawmakers are held to a standard that is above reproach. People don’t give money to campaigns for lawmakers to use it to defend their own bad behavior, so lawmakers shouldn’t be able to use it in that manner.
Mendoza resigned last year in February under threat of expulsion by the Senate and he unsuccessfully ran for re-election later that year. The commission staff initially issued an advice letter that stated Mendoza could use campaign and legal defense funds to defend himself from claims of sexual harassment that developed directly out of his activities or status as a candidate or elected officer. However, the letter was later rescinded by the panel after some members questioned using campaign funds to fight sexual harassment claims. The proposed bill would clarify this issue, but the FPPC is still looking for a legislator to carry the bill. We will have to wait and see if the proposed bill will be heard and voted on this year.