Senator Leyva: Ban Use of Political Funds to Fight Harassment and Discrimination Claims

Legislation Seeks to Prevent Future Confusion Related to Proper Use of Funds

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

SACRAMENTO – In order to clarify the appropriate use of political funds to pay for legal expenses, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) today introduced legislation to prohibit legal defense funds and campaign funds from being used to pay for or reimburse a candidate or elected official for legal fees associated with violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, including sexual harassment.

Sponsored by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), SB 71 will prevent the use of political contributions by elected officials or candidates to defend themselves against accusations of harassment and discrimination.  Current law authorizes elected officials and candidates to use campaign and legal defense funds to pay for the legal expenses that may arise directly out of the conduct of an election campaign, the electoral process, or the performance of the officeholder’s governmental activities and duties.

In March 2018, the FPPC rescinded an advice letter to former Senator Tony Mendoza that allowed him to use legal defense and campaign funds to defend himself against claims of sexual harassment.  It then became clear that state law needed to be clarified so that future elected officials and candidates were explicitly forbidden from using these political funds to fight sexual harassment or similar claims.

“SB 71 will ensure that elected officials accused of sexual harassment or discrimination are not able to use campaign or legal defense funds as deep pools of money to defend themselves in cases related to this terrible behavior,” Senator Leyva said.  “These funds are certainly not intended to help elected officials or candidates avoid personally facing the financial consequences of their alleged actions in hurting another person. I look forward to working with the FPPC and other stakeholders in the months ahead to close this loophole that could allow harassers to use these funds to defend their outrageous actions. It is critical that California continues to stand with survivors, who must oftentimes endure significant public criticism after their allegations are made public.”

FPPC Chair Alice Germond also noted the importance of passing this important legislation.

“I want to thank Senator Leyva for her leadership on this important issue. The people of California deserve both transparent campaign finance laws as well as the certainty that their contributions are not misused by those who seek to represent us,” Chair Germond stated.

Following today’s introduction, SB 71 will be considered by the appropriate Senate committee(s) later this spring.