Capitol Alert

After UC probe, interfering with state auditor could soon be a crime

Did University of California President Janet Napolitano commit a crime when her office intercepted and reviewed surveys sent independently to 10 campuses before they were submitted to the state auditor?

Furious lawmakers asked that question again and again at a hearing last week on the blistering state audit of UC’s central administration.

On Tuesday, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, announced he and Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would clear up the confusion. They plan legislation making it a crime to “intentionally interfere” with a state auditor’s investigation.

“This is to give the state auditor the necessary tools to make sure that we are holding all public agencies accountable by making sure that they cooperate with the state auditor,” Muratsuchi, who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said. “When the state auditor knocks on the door, we mean business.”

Muratsuchi did not offer a timeline for when he would introduce the bill or provide further details about what punishment it would create or how that would be enforced. He also declined to comment on how a new law might affect the situation involving UC, which State Auditor Elaine Howle said was unlike any she had ever encountered during her 17 years in the position.

“The president and her apology was welcomed by the committee,” Muratsuchi said.

UC President Janet Napolitano apologized at last week’s hearing for creating the “wrong impression” that she had improperly interfered with the audit. Howle threw out surveys intended to assess the value of the Office of the President after discovering that it had reviewed draft responses and requested changes that reflected more positively on its operations.

Napolitano testified that she was merely trying to ensure campuses provided the auditor with the correct information and that UC would not work around the official auditing process in the future. But some lawmakers remain unsatisfied; Assembly Republicans are seeking a legislative subpoena of all records related to the interference to determine if “criminal malfeasance” occurred.

On Tuesday, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, called for her resignation.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff