Sex Scandal Further Damages Lawmakers' Reputation
September 11, 2009 - 12:29 PMA scandal involving a family-values legislator caught boasting about his sexual escapades with his lobbyist mistresses created an embarrassing distraction for lawmakers Thursday, further diverting attention from California's major policy issues in the crucial final days of their session.
Republican Mike Duvall resigned Wednesday after a videotape surfaced in which he described to a colleague in lurid detail his sexual conquests, including a spanking fetish, the skimpy underwear of one mistress and his carrying on two affairs simultaneously. He sought to deny the affairs on Thursday.
The fallout from the scandal began to emerge, with calls for an outside investigation in addition to the internal ethics probe to determine whether the alleged affairs might have influenced his votes.
California lawmakers, who face growing public distrust and few accomplishments for the year, were hoping for a flourish of activity on major issues such as water and prison reform as their regular session drew to a close this week.
But the scandal filled the Capitol with gossip and distracted many legislative staffers from the more important business at hand, while further tarnishing the image of an institution that is seen as increasingly ineffective.
"This is a real black eye," said Derek Cressman, regional director for the government watchdog group Common Cause. "I think it's imperative that the leadership of both parties take this very seriously and address it in a fast and strong way."
The videotape shows Duvall during a break from a July 8 committee hearing detailing his extramarital exploits to fellow Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona. He is overheard on an open microphone bragging that he slept with an energy industry lobbyist who wore "eye-patch underwear" and that he enjoyed spanking her when they hooked up. He told Miller, a longtime friend, that he also was sleeping with another lobbyist.
"Oh, she is hot!" Duvall said about the second woman.
The 54-year-old married father of two issued a statement denying he had affairs and saying his only offense "was engaging in inappropriate storytelling."
The lobbyist Duvall refers to in his comments reportedly works for Sempra Energy, a San Diego-based energy services company. The allegation that Duvall slept with a lobbyist who does business before his chief committee prompted calls for an outside investigation and tougher rules of conduct for lobbyists.
Duvall was the vice chairman and ranking Republican member of the Assembly Utilities Committee. Duvall, a Farmers Insurance agent in Yorba Linda, also was a member of the Assembly Rules Committee, whose responsibilities include overseeing lawmaker ethics and ensuring sexual harassment laws are followed within the Legislature.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has ordered her chamber's ethics committee to investigate. On Thursday, she removed Miller from his seat on the ethics committee, saying it posed an obvious conflict for him to have a role in investigating the scandal.
Campaign finance records show only relatively small donations to Duvall from Sempra, including $1,500 to his re-election campaign in March and $1,300 to his officeholder account in 2007 and 2008. He appears to have authored only one bill on electricity rates, which never received a committee hearing.
California law requires lobbyists to register with the state, complete an ethics course and report the money and time they spend lobbying lawmakers. It does not require that they disclose how much they are paid or prohibit personal relationships with the people they are lobbying.
The liberal watchdog group Courage Campaign called on Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate Duvall's behavior, saying an examination of a lawmaker's conduct should not be left to other lawmakers. Brown's spokesman, Scott Gerber, said the attorney general will wait for the ethics committee's conclusions before deciding whether to get involved.
While the videotape and subsequent resignation remained the talk of the Capitol, longtime observers of California's political culture were not surprised about the allegation of an affair between a lawmaker and a lobbyist. But rarely do affairs emerge in such public _ and juicy _ fashion and become broadcast to the world on YouTube.
"I hate to be the one to break the news, but relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists are neither uncommon nor unknown," Bill Cavala, a Democrat who worked in the Assembly speaker's office for more than 30 years, wrote in a blog Thursday. "The capitol community is like, in many ways, a combat fraternity. It is not surprising that the men and women involved in the political trenches together should be attracted on another level as well."
The scandal comes at a time of the year when politicians hop from fundraiser to fundraiser at restaurants and bars around the state Capitol, partying with lobbyists, staffers and other lawmakers. The timing of the fundraisers has raised questions in the past because it is at the end of the legislative session when lawmakers are voting on the most important bills, raising the specter of pay-to-play politics - or worse.
The public perception of a Legislature that operates like an insider's club and produces little in the way of meaningful change for California's 38 million residents has prompted several proposals for reform-oriented ballot initiatives for 2010.
Among them are measures to make the Legislature a part-time body, require that lawmakers actually understand the legislation they vote on and force lawmakers to undergo periodic drug and alcohol testing. Another movement seeks to call a constitutional convention to rewrite California's governing document.
With just one day to go in this year's session, lawmakers have left the most important parts of their agenda unfinished - on issues such as water, prisons and alternative energy.
Bass, the Assembly Speaker, tried to temper the scandal-fueled gossip and put a positive spin on the Legislature's final days in regular session.
"The Assembly has some very important policy work to complete in the next couple of days and we will not allow this situation to become a distraction," she said.
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