Capitol Alert

Why California Republicans are paying Kevin McCarthy’s wife

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., prepares to comment on the government shutdown during a TV interview at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., prepares to comment on the government shutdown during a TV interview at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. AP

Judy McCarthy, wife of the state’s highest-ranking Republican, has spent more than three years working full time for the California Republican Party, financial records show.

McCarthy, who is married to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has earned nearly $160,000 since mid-2014 working on the state party’s donor programs. The position requires McCarthy to contact party donors, make appointments and arrange meetings.

Cynthia Bryant, the California GOP’s executive director, said McCarthy competed for the post, which the party publicly advertised. That included coming to Sacramento to interview.

“She sold us on being able to do the job and she was really excellent,” Bryant said, adding that she wasn’t sure of the connection when she first reviewed her résumé. “Is this my Judy McCarthy?” she remembers asking.

“She went through the normal process,” she added. “But she happens to have a famous husband.”

Candidates for years have courted controversy by having their spouses or other family work on on campaigns in an official capacity. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Costa Mesa, long paid his wife, Rhonda, $50,000 a year to operate his campaign on what he said was a full-time basis. Karen Waters, the daughter of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, of Los Angeles, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for running a slate mailer, called Citizens for Waters, funded by candidates that pay to promote their campaigns.

California GOP officials stressed that McCarthy’s position is different: The money she helps the party raise goes to state campaigns her husband doesn’t have a hand in, they said. Judy McCarthy’s salary also is paid by the state GOP – not via her husband’s campaign, or by another federal committee.

Still, the McCarthy name carries considerable weight with Republican donors. Before rising in Congress, Kevin McCarthy was Assembly GOP leader, and he remains close with current state party leaders. Judy McCarthy and Kevin McCarthy did not comment.

Kevin McCarthy’s congressional disclosures though 2013 did not list any paid employment for Judy. They were high school sweethearts, and stories about the majority leader’s life in the district note that she worked with her husband on his first business, a deli he opened with winnings from the lottery. McCarthy later sold the business.

Bryant said Judy McCarthy is treated like her other employees, including participating in staff meetings, though McCarthy primarily works from home in Bakersfield and is not required to staff the party’s conventions.

“It’s a real job and she does real work,” Bryant said.

Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up here.

STATE OF UNION: President Donald Trump, who last year declared California “out of control,” threatening to withhold federal funding, gives his State of the Union address. Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s special guests from California are David Dahlberg of Santa Maria and Preston Sharp of Redding. Dahlberg is a fire prevention technician at Pine Canyon Fire Station and Sharp has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves.

Nurse Karen Bahena, a so-called “dreamer” from San Diego, is attending as the guest of Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. Not attending: Waters, who will instead speak at the top of a BET News special. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, will deliver the Democratic response. Trump is set to begin just after 6 p.m. Pacific Time, with the speech carried on major broadcast and cable networks. C-SPAN, Twitter, the White House’s YouTube and Facebook are available for online viewing.

DEMOCRATS DEBATE: Democratic gubernatorial candidates John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa are slated to participate in a forum hosted by the NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights advocacy group. It’s at the SOMArts Center in San Francisco, 934 Brannan St.

WORTH REPEATING: “Is that applause for me, or my kids, or my wife? You better not forget her.” – Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, to his colleagues. His wife, Jessica, just had twins.

EQUALITY BACKS NEWSOM: Equality California, the LGBT organization, today will announce its endorsement of Newsom for governor. As mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“He not only stood up boldly and publicly for marriage equality when it was not supported by a majority of Californians and when doing so presented significant political risks,” Equality California’s Rick Zbur said of Newsom. “But he has continued to be one of our community’s most dedicated champions in the years since, always on the forefront of the fight to advance LGBTQ civil rights both within California and nationally.”

REPUBLICANS CLASH: Two of the three Republicans in the race, meantime, are fighting over who is best positioned to carry the party’s flag in the June primary. After Assemblyman Travis Allen touted his total haul, about $368,000. Fellow Republican John Cox teased him with “a little reality check.” Allen’s total raised to date “would not buy a single day of television ads in California or a single mail piece to only Republican voters,” Cox’s campaign said, mentioning Allen’s considerable debt to his past Assembly campaigns.

Added Team Cox: “Much of the recent money Travis Allen touts raising was under the pretense of his gas tax repeal campaign which failed to submit even a single signature by its deadline.”

FOLLOW-UP: Following up on last week’s debate, where moderator Jorge Ramos asked the candidates if they would deport two “Dreamers,” Allen through a spokeswoman was still refusing to say: “Immigration is a federal issue, and as the next governor I will ensure that our state follows federal law.”

TUCK’S WALTON WOES: Marshall Tuck’s campaign for state superintendent of public instruction returned a $5,000 donation from a top donor to Proposition 8 – a since-overturned ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage – amid pressure from Equality California and his Democratic opponent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who is endorsed by the California Teachers Association.

Tuck’s spokesman, Andrew Blumenfeld, said the campaign returned the money to Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr. and informed the donor’s team that they would be issuing a refund before Equality California called on them to do so.

Tuck, however, on Jan. 18 converted the $5,000 from Fieldstead & Company to Ahmanson, the company’s founder, helping him fulfill a pledge not to take corporate or PAC money. Tuck’s team told The Bee on Monday that the Ahmanson contribution was filed incorrectly from the beginning and should have appeared originally as a personal donation.

The return also came well after Thurmond’s campaign, on Jan. 16, criticized Tuck for taking the $5,000 given the connection to the donor’s company and Proposition 8, which was approved by voters in 2008. Ahmanson previously gave a total of $57,800 to help Tuck’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign against Tom Torlakson.

Madeline Franklin, with Thurmond’s campaign, said it was “absolutely ridiculous” for Tuck to claim he didn’t know the connection between Ahmanson and Proposition 8. “It’s clear they are either lying or grossly incompetent,” she said.

Blumenfeld said Monday that he first learned about the Ahmanson-Proposition 8 connection from the Thurmond campaign. He said he did some research over the next few days, shared it with Tuck, and then was instructed to return the contribution.

Shortly after Tuck announced he would return the money, Thurmond issued a statement introducing a bill to provide for the training of educators in support of LGBT students.

Following the Ahmanson dust-up, Tuck’s campaign mistakenly attributed a $7,300 donation from Alice Walton, of Bentonville, Ark., to a former Los Angeles Times and KPCC reporter with the same name. The actual Walton donor is part of the Wal-Mart family, major financial supporters of changes to public education, including pushing for more charter schools.

Blumenfeld said the campaign made a mistake. “We fixed it as soon as we saw it, and if you scroll through any campaign’s filings you will see amendments are filed all the time,” he said.

BANK BUD-DIES: Chiang, the state treasurer, will announce the next steps as part of his efforts to explore the viability of a public bank to service the weed industry in California. Chiang said he views the move as timely given U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent rollback of Obama-era guidelines. Chiang’s event is happening via phone at 11:15 a.m.

BIPARTISAN RAILROADING: Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, will push their request for an audit of the state’s high-speed rail project, which has come under new pressure since disclosing that its first segment would cost a lot more money. The audit committee meets at 9 a.m. in Room 444.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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