Capitol Alert

Former California lawmaker registers as a lobbyist after #MeToo investigation

Sexual harassment cases at the California Capitol

Two lawmakers have resigned and one is on leave at the California Capitol over allegations of improper conduct toward women at the California Capitol. At least one other is under investigation, while the Legislature decides what the next steps are.
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Two lawmakers have resigned and one is on leave at the California Capitol over allegations of improper conduct toward women at the California Capitol. At least one other is under investigation, while the Legislature decides what the next steps are.

A month after the state Assembly told him he had likely violated its sexual misconduct policy, former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas moved to return to the Capitol by registering as a lobbyist.

Paperwork filed on the state’s online lobbying database last week shows Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat who represented Los Angeles, registered as a lobbyist with his firm Millennial Advisors, drawing criticism from anti-sexual harassment activists at the Capitol.

The database shows he registered the same week the state Assembly released documents showing an investigator found he likely made an unwanted sexual advance toward an Assembly employee. The investigator also found Ridley-Thomas likely made another staffer uncomfortable by winking at her and holding her hand, the documents show.

Ridley-Thomas has denied the allegations. His lawyer Nancy Sheehan criticized the investigation, saying in a statement that it “defied any definition of due process and objectivity.”

Ridley-Thomas quit the Legislature in December 2017, citing health problems. Records released by the Assembly show at least two people accused him of harassment before he resigned.

Leaders of the “We Said Enough” movement, a Sacramento offshoot of the broader #MeToo movement against workplace sexual harassment, are raising concerns about the development. Samantha Corbin and Adama Iwu, lobbyists who started We Said Enough, tweeted about Ridley-Thomas’ registration Tuesday.

“Why is an ex-legislator with substantiated claims against him being allowed to register as a lobbyist?” Iwu asked on Twitter. “We have made progress on #metoo issues in #caleg but a solution that does not include lobbyists is incomplete.”

Former lawmakers have to wait one year from the time they leave the Legislature before becoming lobbyists. But no rules prevent lawmakers found in violation of the Legislature’s misconduct policies from registering as lobbyists after that year ends.

“Right now that’s a really huge loophole,” Corbin said in an interview. “It gives me great pause for my own personal safety and the other women who are lobbyists. We don’t have anywhere to go.”

Last year, the Legislature passed more than a dozen bills on workplace sexual harassment, including one that adds information about the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy to the required ethics training for lobbyists.

The Legislature also created a new process for handling its own misconduct investigations, which includes a panel of experts that makes recommendations to the Legislature. If the panel recommends discipline for a lobbyist, the Legislature could have difficulty enforcing it because lobbyists aren’t legislative employees.

Corbin commended the Legislature’s work, but said lawmakers must do more to address the problem of lobbyists who are accused of harassment or who are harassed.

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who led the group that created the Legislature’s new process for handling complaints, said the Legislature can sometimes discipline lobbyists found to have sexually harassed people, such as by banning them from the building or preventing them from working with certain staffers.

The Glendale Democrat said she agrees there’s more work to be done and wants lobbying firms to come together to develop a way to handle misconduct involving lobbyists.

“I would really love for the lobbying community to come to the table and talk about ways of being a more formal part of our process,” she said.

Ridley-Thomas is the fourth lawmaker in the last two years to resign after facing sexual harassment complaints.

The state’s database lists his status as a lobbyist as “in suspense” and doesn’t show that he’s completed the required ethics course.

Representatives for Ridley-Thomas could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

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