By TOM JOYCE
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
California Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, will lead a subcommittee that oversees the budget for the Attorney’s General office.
Ms. Bonta will do so despite being the wife of California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, recently selected Ms. Bonta to chair Assembly Budget Subcommittee 5. The subcommittee reviews how various public safety agencies spend their money, including the California Department of Justice.
Mr. Rendon issued a statement last week, arguing that Ms. Bonta would have no conflict of interest in this role.
“I believe Ms. Bonta will continue to be independent and unbiased in her legislative judgment, as she has been since starting her service in the Assembly,” Mr. Rendon’s statement said, according to KCRA. “The Legislature has a robust and transparent budget process, designed with checks and balances to ensure the best possible budget is passed. Our final Assembly budget proposal must be identical to the Senate and will be approved or vetoed by the governor. Additionally, we can’t set salaries or benefits for state constitutional officers, so no elected official can ever personally or financially benefit from our budget process.”
Ms. Bonta also claimed there is no conflict of interest. She said she would use the position to represent her constituents’ best interests rather than her husband.
“My district is home to the City of Oakland, where gun violence disproportionately ravages communities of color. I have made promoting public safety and reducing recidivism legislative priorities of mine, as these issues are critically important to my constituents,” she said in a statement.
“The suggestion of a conflict of interest shows a lack of understanding about the legislative process,” she added. “My focus is on continuing to fight for safe communities with an unbiased lens and unwavering commitment my constituents expect, and I look forward to taking on this work with my colleagues in the Assembly, State Senate, and Governor’s administration.”
However, not everyone agrees with the assessments from Mr. Rendon and Ms. Bonta.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board said that putting the Attorney’s General wife on the subcommittee overseeing his department’s budget is a mistake.
“The right response would have been an immediate mea culpa from those involved in the selection and a promise to remedy the apparent conflict of interest before the subcommittee’s first meeting in March,” the editorial board wrote.
“After all, the public’s faith in government has been waning for years, and there’s no point in exacerbating the mistrust, even if the appointment is perfectly legal,” it added. “There are 79 other Assembly members, none of whom are married to the state’s attorney general, who could reasonably serve as a replacement.”
Additionally, Bob Stern, former general counsel of the Fair Political Practices Commission, told KCRA that even though the move is legal, it is not a good idea.
“They’re not violating any laws, I want to make it really clear, none of this is illegal,” Mr. Stern said. “But it seems to me they have a tin ear about ethics. Particularly as attorney general, he should have the highest ethical standards of any government official, they should be setting an example for everybody else.”
The subcommittee’s first hearing this year will happen on February 27. It will meet to discuss the state’s Department of Justice on March 27.