Mike Duvall sex scandal: Did he break lobbying rules?

The GOP California lawmaker who was caught on video making sexual boasts is being investigated for a reported tryst with an energy lobbyist.

By , Staff writer

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    California Assemblyman Mike Duvall sits at his desk in the Assembly chambers on Wednesday.
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California Assemblyman Mike Duvall’s caught-on-tape sexual boasts certainly suggest a lapse in judgment by the socially conservative Republican lawmaker.

But the Assembly Ethics Committee is now investigating whether there were also serious ethical failings that would have influenced his legislative decisionmaking. Some watchdog groups suggest laws could have been broken, too.

The tape shows Duvall, who was vice chair of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, describing detailed trysts with two women to fellow Assemblyman Jeff Miller, a Republican from Corona, Calif. The Orange Country Weekly identified one of the women as Heidi DeJong Barsuglia, a lobbyist for the energy firm Sempra Energy.

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Sempra has denied the affair and says it is investigating the matter “to ensure not only that our policies on employee conduct are adhered to, but also that our employee is treated fairly.”

Mr. Duvall resigned Wednesday but on Thursday he said that his resignation should not be taken as an admission that he actually had an affair. In a statement, he described the incident as simple “story-telling.”

Already, watchdog groups are calling it an example of the all-too-close relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers in Sacramento.

“The blatancy and the arrogance of this instance is a wake-up call to get much tougher limits on lobbying,” says Judy Dugan of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group. “It’s not a new problem.”

If it turns out that Duvall was having a relationship with a female lobbyist – and that relationship had any influence on his committee votes – then ethics rules were probably violated, says Derek Cressman of Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

It would be more difficult to make a legal case, says Mr. Cressman, as that would probably involve proving complicity on the part of Sempra and an intent by the lobbyist to use sex to influence Duvall’s vote.

But at least one group, the progressive Courage Campaign, wants the California attorney general to investigate to see if Duvall can be “prosecuted for selling his votes.”

Common Cause said that Sempra was lobbying on 170 pieces of legislation in California and, at least in once case, Duvall voted no on a bill that Sempra campaigned against.

The group noted that there have been other instances of energy companies using unorthodox methods to win influence.

“[T]here is a track record of energy sector lobbyists using sex, drugs, and alcohol to unduly influence decision-makers,” it said in a statement, citing a 2008 Interior Department report that found that Chevron, Shell, and other energy lobbyists had provided gifts as well as sex and cocaine with 12 employees of the Minerals Management Service.

The probe into Duvall’s comments may be broadened to look into other alleged affairs between lawmakers and lobbyists, says California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D).

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