Capitol Alert

California lawmaker under investigation for alleged sexual harassment

A California lawmaker is under investigation for alleged sexual harassment, according to the leader of the state’s Republican Party and people familiar with the investigation.

Multiple women have accused Assemblyman Bill Brough, R-Dana Point, of making unwanted sexual advances, prompting party leaders to distance themselves from him and withhold a possible 2020 re-election endorsement until a pair of investigations are complete.

While it’s already known that the Fair Political Practices Commission is looking into potential campaign finance violations, California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Patterson said at a Sacramento Press Club event Wednesday afternoon that Brough is also being investigated by the state for accusations of sexual harassment.

“We now have a process within the Legislature with the workplace conduct unit that protects both those that are accusers and those that are being accused,” Patterson said. “There is an investigation in progress, and same with the FPPC side of things, there’s an investigation that is in progress.”

An email obtained by The Bee and a source familiar with the matter who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigation confirm Patterson’s account that the Legislature’s Workplace Conduct Unit is investigating Brough.

The email shows the unit has interacted with people familiar with Brough’s alleged misbehavior.

The Legislature created the group earlier this year to review harassment claims made against lawmakers. The unit would not confirm that it is investigating Brough, as the group does not disclose information to the public until an investigation has been completed and harassment accusations have been substantiated. During the process, it notifies accusers, witnesses and those who are accused.

When reached for comment via text message, Brough said “that is who would investigate,” but replied, “Don’t know” when asked if the workplace conduct unit is looking into harassment claims against him.

Patterson, who said she learned about the investigation several weeks ago in a “public setting,” said she got a call from Brough asking her to walk back the comments she made at the event.

Two women have publicly accused Brough of making unwanted sexual advances.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett told The Bee in June that Brough drunkenly approached her from behind, tightly grabbed her and put his arms around her shoulder.

Bartlett first publicly voiced her experience during a hearing in which Orange County Republicans were considering the assemblyman’s request for a 2020 endorsement. Brough has since withdrawn his request.

Maria Elena Banks, a Laguna Beach real estate agent who worked on campaigns for Bartlett and Brough, said Brough placed his hand on her leg along the edge of a short skirt she was wearing at a Dana Point bar about five years ago.

In 2017, one woman submitted a complaint with the Assembly Rules Committee, accusing Brough of making unwanted sexual advances. A March 2018 letter from the committee Brough provided shows that the group could not determine that he violated state ethics policies.

Brough has denied all the accusations, saying Bartlett is driven by a bid for a 2022 state Senate seat and that Banks wanted a real estate contract from him earlier this year. Both women have refuted his assertions that they are personally motivated.

Bartlett said in June, “It’s something that I never even really wanted to talk about,” while Banks said she reluctantly came forward after Bartlett so that her five granddaughters would speak up if they found themselves in a similar situation.

“I have been on the end of many political attacks but will not stand for personal attacks on me and my family,” Brough told The Bee in a June statement. “I have done nothing wrong.”

Brough in a letter to the editor at the Dana Point Times wrote that he is the victim of “a recent slanderous and politically motivated allegation” that he considers “retaliation” for a bill he introduced in February to rein in the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies.

Patterson said on Wednesday there are no plans to formally support Brough until the harassment and campaign finance investigations are concluded.

“We have already made many endorsements at the state party level,” Patterson said at Wednesday’s event. “The endorsements come in a process that starts at the county party level. I don’t foresee us making endorsements in that race until all of this is brought to sunlight.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.