California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s wife has recused herself from matters related to the state Department of Justice after she was appointed to lead a budget committee that oversees and helps determine the spending of her husband’s agency.
“While it has been made abundantly clear that there is no legal or ethical conflict in my serving as chair of Budget Subcommittee 5 as requested by the speaker, I believe as legislators we have an obligation to ensure the people of California have absolute confidence in the legislative process,” Assemblymember Mia Bonta, the attorney general’s wife, said in a statement announcing her recusal.
“I will recuse myself,” she continued, “from Budget Subcommittee 5 matters directly pertaining to the Department of Justice, including budget change proposals, proposed trailer bills and legislative budget proposals that pertain to the DOJ to ensure that the body may focus on the important work before us.”
CALIFORNIA AG’S WIFE APPOINTED TO OVERSEE HUSBAND’S BUDGET AS ETHICS EXPERTS RAISE RED FLAGS
California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon earlier this month tapped Bonta to serve as the chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee 5, which focuses on how taxpayer dollars are used by the state’s various public safety agencies, including the California Department of Justice, whose budget last year was $1.2 billion
Rendon and both Bontas are Democrats.
The appointment prompted ethical concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
“It should raise eyebrows,” Bob Stern, former general counsel for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), told local NBC affiliate KCRA when the appointment was announced. “What’s going on with them? It seems to me they have a tin ear about ethics.”
Stern clarified there was nothing illegal about Rendon’s appointment of Mia Bonta but argued the state’s top law enforcement official should have a problem with it nonetheless.
“Particularly as attorney general, he should have the highest ethical standards of any governmental official,” said Stern. “He should set an example for everyone else.”
While not breaking any laws, the decision may still present a conflict of interest, according to experts — even after Bonta’s recusal.
“One of the things we worry about with respect to conflicts of interest is not only whether it violates the letter of the law, but whether there’s an appearance of impropriety and whether there’s the idea there would be some distrust in the government,” Mary-Beth Moylan, a law professor at the University of Pacific, told KCRA.
“If she did recuse herself on that, I think people would still feel like, ‘Well she’s the chair,’ she may still have influence over other members who are on the committee.”
Fox News Digital previously reached out to the attorney general’s office for comment, and the office said the California Assembly would be best positioned to answer as these decisions were made at the discretion of the assembly.
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Rendon’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, although he previously defended his decision.
“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,” said Rendon. “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.”
The budget subcommittee has its first hearing Feb. 27 and is scheduled to meet to discuss the Department of Justice March 27.
Rendon’s appointment is not the first time the Bontas have faced ethical concerns. In 2020, CalMatters reported Rob Bonta, who was an assemblyman at the time, created a foundation that contributed thousands of dollars to a nonprofit Mia Bonta led as CEO.
Stern at the time said the transaction should have been illegal, and the FPPC has since tightened regulations and now requires more transparency in such situations.
Bonta’s attorney general campaign has provided $14,940 to his wife’s campaigns for State Assembly, according to campaign finance reports.
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