In the spring of 2019, California Asm. Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t coast through re-election in 2020. His Orange County district is the most conservative district in what’s arguably the most conservative area of California and one of the few that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
That was before long-time political blogger Aaron Park made it his personal mission to hold Brough to account for his misdeeds, which include numerous instances of sexual harassment, at least one instance of sexual assault, and a treasure trove of campaign finance violations.
As results from Tuesday’s primary elections rolled in, it became clear that Brough wouldn’t even make it through the primary. In other words, he’s fired.
Park, who runs the Right On Daily blog, first learned about allegations against Brough in May 2018, when he received an anonymous letter detailing two sexual harassment/sexual assault allegations that had been made against Brough; one was made to the Assembly and the other to the City of Dana Point, where Brough had served on the city council. In the absence of any information to corroborate what was in the letter, Park didn’t write about the allegations.
In June 2019 Brough was poised to again receive the endorsement of the Orange County GOP at their monthly meeting, but was in for a surprise. As Park reports:
OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett spoke out forcefully against endorsing Bill Brough to a stunned audience. She detailed in graphic terms the incident of Sexual Assault/Harassment that she personally endured at the hands of Mr. Brough.
Bartlett and Brough both served on the Dana Park City Council in 2011 and were attending a political event at a restaurant there. The OC Register describes what Bartlett told the OCGOP:
As a political event was winding down, Bartlett said she was alone near a side door and searching her purse for her car keys when she felt someone grab her shoulders.
When she turned, she saw the person holding her was Brough. Bartlett said Brough, still gripping her shoulders, tried to steer her out the side door, saying, “Let’s get a drink and do something.”
Bartlett said she resisted, and asked him several times to let her go. When he refused, she dipped down and wiggled free. She said she then ran to the front of the hotel restaurant to ask for the city manager.
Bartlett filed a complaint with the city in 2011, and both were required to take sexual harassment training. (Insert eyeroll here.)
After Bartlett spoke, the OCGOP voted to refer Brough’s endorsement to the Endorsement Committee for a closed door investigation.
Park wrote about Bartlett coming forward, referencing the “rumors about the personal conduct of Bill Brough” he’d heard over the years. That post opened the floodgates, and over the summer Park received information from numerous women who’d accused Brough of sexual harassment and whose complaints had been ignored by the GOP establishment – an establishment that was intent on protecting its incumbents at all costs, even if those incumbents operated without ethics or morals.
Here is the story from one woman, a lobbyist, who filed a complaint with the Assembly:
In February of 2015, Assemblyman Bill Brough followed me into the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel and sexually battered me by pressing his erection against me and saying, “You know I’m really into you, right?” I was shocked and disoriented and stammered something about being married. I’ve no idea why I said those particular words, but he replied, “So am I.” This happened after almost two years of subtle and overt attempts to initiate an intimate relationship with me. At all times, he has been in a position of power over me. When the un-welcomed conduct began, he was a Chief of Staff working for the Assembly and I was a district representative working for the Senate. The power imbalance remained when he became a legislator and I accepted a governmental affairs position that required me to lobby state legislators, the position that I still hold…
The story below was told to Park by a woman he has known professionally for years (referred to as his “source”), who also told this writer the same story in February 2018.
In an evening after meetings in Sacramento, my source headed across the street to one of the local hangouts. She described Brough and another member of the legislature “Who Always Wears a Cowboy Hat” at the bar drinking with him. She indicated that the other member was even more intoxicated than Brough.
Brough struck up a conversation with my informant. He proceeded to tell her that he had seen her at events and had been watching her. Brough then informed her that he was a member of the elections committee and could “help” her boss. He indicated that he had a place “right around the corner” from the bar they were at.
My informant told Brough he was disgusting and to go to hell. She immediately called the other staffer who was taking an Uber to the location she was at in some sort of ruse to end the conversation. The former Chief of Staff, the (now) Former Assemblymember and a second Assemblymember all knew about the incident within an hour of it happening.
It’s disgusting that three men who were all either Assembly employees or elected officials did nothing to bring a complaint against Brough on their own after witnessing this.
While Park was publishing stories about Brough’s bad behavior throughout the summer of 2019 there was only one public response from the OCGOP – whose members had already heard from a tearful Lisa Bartlett.
“The Republican Party of Orange County has no tolerance for sexual misconduct,” [Chairman] Whitaker said in a statement. “We are not aware of any pending investigations. All claims of sexual misconduct should be reported to and investigated by law enforcement or state legislative ethics committees to allow for a fair and thorough investigation, so that victims can be heard and an accused can present a defense. If an investigation is initiated, any request for endorsement would be dependent on the results of the investigation. There is no request for endorsement pending at this time.”
Behind the scenes, Park reported, people were being pressured to “keep it in the family,” and in mid-August Brough sent an email blast to his supporters naming his accusers who had remained anonymous up until that point – an attempt to bully and intimidate.
Separately, Park had started investigating Brough’s campaign finance reports and found questionable expenditures that almost made Duncan Hunter look like an amateur. In a two-year period, Brough’s campaign shelled out more than $175,000 for food/drink/meals. The campaign paid more than $13,000 to Verizon for cell phone bills, $1300 for a cigar humidor for his Sacramento office, a $1200 dinner for three at Mastro’s (listed as a campaign event), and $2300 for a retirement party for his chief of staff.
Park filed a detailed complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Committee outlining the questionable expenditures. The FPPC opened an investigation into Brough in August 2019.
Still, as the California GOP’s fall convention approached there was no hint that the party would withdraw their support of Brough.
Park was livid. In a blog post, he let the party know that he wasn’t going to stop until Brough was out of office.
Blogger’s Note: To GOP Leadership and Bill Brough, I am not going away until Brough is out of office. How messy and how long this lasts is up to you. Secondly, I will defend the women that Bill Brough is attempting to bully, and that may mean collateral damage to a lot of people around him. This is not personal, this is about winning elections and defending women. Think it through and do the right thing…
In September the OCGOP finally did something, passing a resolution that called on Brough to not file for re-election and to retire. By that point it was confirmed that there were seven (7!!) sexual harassment complaints against Brough pending in the Assembly Rules Committee. Brough didn’t listen, though. He filed for re-election and didn’t change his abuse of campaign funds. From July 1, 2019 through the first few weeks of 2020 he spent more than $57,000 on “flights, hotels, meals, and entertainment,” including “$13,000 to take 19 people to a Rolling Stones concert in the Bay Area.”
At that point the OCGOP and a few other organizations called upon Brough to withdraw from the race and noted their endorsement of Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies. OCGOP chair Fred Whitaker penned a column in the OC Register titled, “The case against Bill Brough.” Predictably, Brough flipped them off and continued his campaign.
Fortunately, Orange County voters performed an intervention on Tuesday. The intervention would have been unnecessary had the GOP establishment in Orange County and in the state placed a higher value on the character of the people in office and taking the trash out on their own instead of forcing activists to drag them, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing. Park hopes that they’ve learned their lesson, telling RedState:
Incumbents should be held to a higher standard, not enabled by feckless legislative leadership and donors that reflexively fund incumbency. The AD73 race represented an all to rare example of justice in politics. This should be a lesson to legislative leaders that no incumbent is safe and there will be accountability one way or another.
While the CAGOP and OCGOP finally did the right thing (sort of), had Park not repeatedly hammered Brough on his blog and conducted an independent, unpaid investigation into Brough’s glaring disregard for campaign finance law, Brough would never have been held accountable by the voters. Park’s campaign to stand for the women in the California Republican Party illustrate the power of “one voice.”