CD10: Tauscher’s endorsement questioned

A Lafayette attorney wants State Department lawyers to force Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher to repudiate her endorsement of state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier to succeed her in Congress.

And DeSaulnier rival John Garamendi made sure to give Tauscher a heads-up.

Jason A. Bezis – who in the final days of Tauscher’s Congressional career was berating her for what he says were too few and too inaccessible CD10 town meetings – has drafted an extensive memo, with exhibits, illustrating his complaint that Tauscher is in violation of State Department rules.

“The State Department’s ‘Rules on Political Activities’ state their rationale, ‘The Department has a long-standing policy of limiting participation in partisan campaigns by its top officials and political appointees in recognition of the bipartisan character of our foreign policy,’” Bezis noted in an e-mail to the DeSaulnier campaign accompanying the memo. “Therefore, Undersecretary Tauscher’s endorsement of your campaigns has the potential of harming American foreign policy. Your acceptance and prominent use of her endorsement may have a similar damaging effect.

He’s asking that DeSaulnier’s campaign remove all reference’s to Tauscher’s endorsement from its Web sites; remove from circulation and destroy any campaign literature and fundraising invitations stating or implying the endorsement; advise other Democratic groups to do the same; instruct staff and volunteers not to mention Tauscher’s endorsement; and omit any mention from it from future advertisements.

“Senator DeSaulnier is seeking to become a federal lawmaker. It is imperative, especially as an aspiring federal legislator, that he follows the letter and spirit of existing federal law. Mr. DeSaulnier should not enjoy ‘fruit from the poisonous tree’ of Undersecretary Tauscher’s illegal endorsement,” Bezis wrote in his e-mail.

Garamendi’s campaign sent a copy of Bezis’ memo this week to a Tauscher aide, with a cover note that said:

I have been informed by a lawyer in the 10th Congressional District that he is preparing a formal complaint concerning U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher’s endorsement of California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier in the run up to the September 1st Special Election.
I am a long time friend of Ellen’s and I do not want her to be jeopardized in any way. As a former Deputy Secretary at Interior, I am aware of the issue that she faces and I wanted the Undersecretary to know of this problem ahead of any formal complaint. Please let me know what the Undersecretary intends to do.
Attached is the draft of the lawyer’s memo.
John Garamendi

DeSaulnier campaign spokeswoman Katie Merrill offered just one word of response today: “Seriously?”

Tauscher’s office declined comment, but longtime Tauscher campaign consultant Lisa Tucker – no longer in the Under Secretary’s employ – said this is “sour grapes” on Garamendi’s part.

“Garamendi sought her endorsement and didn’t get it, and if he’d gotten it he wouldn’t be doing this,” Tucker said. “Everything that DeSaulnier is using says ‘Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher’ — it’s from before she was sworn in, so it’s all on the up-and-up.”

Tauscher endorsed DeSaulnier in late March, well before President Barack Obama formally nominated her in early May to serve as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

I tried to reach Bezis to ask whether he has endorsed, contributed to, or in any way supported any of the CD10 candidates, but my e-mail and voice mail weren’t returned. He is registered to vote as a Democrat and has written several articles for the Democrat-run California Majority Report, but I don’t see that he has made any campaign contributions to Garamendi or any other CD10 candidate.

UPDATE @ 7:33 A.M. FRIDAY: Bezis wrote back to me overnight, stating he’d endorsed DeSaulnier early on but revoked that endorsement “motivated in part by the campaign literature touting Ellen Tauscher’s backing of his campaign.” He said he has spoken with DeSaulnier, Garamendi, Joan Buchanan, Anthony Woods and Adriel Hampton in recent weeks and believes “all of the candidates (from all political parties) deserve a fair ‘playing field’ — which Tauscher’s illegal endorsement upsets.”

Tucker’s statement, he said, is “outrageous. Tauscher should not have made an endorsement in any partisan election would coincide with any day of her tenure at the State Department. Tauscher went out of her way to make a ‘pre-endorsement’ of DeSaulnier for a special election that did not yet exist. Tauscher knew that a vacancy would be created and a special election called because of and only because of her State Department appointment. It was obvious that her successor would be elected while she was at the State Department, when she undisputedly could not make an endorsement.”

Other CD10 tidbits, after the jump…

DeSaulnier will be among politicos speaking at AFSCME Local 2620‘s bi-annual convention this Saturday evening in San Jose. Among others speaking to the health and social-service workers this weekend are state Controller John Chiang; Democratic gubernatorial candidate and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom; Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Jerry Brown; and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Campbell.

Meanwhile, Asssemblywoman Joan Buchanan will continue her small business tour Saturday with a stop at Green Wheelin’ Scooters in Walnut Creek. She says she’s visiting small businesses to raise awareness of the role they play in creating jobs and building local economies, and to highlight that the economic stimulus package has not done enough to support them; last weekend, she made stops in Antioch and Livermore to visit with owners of businesses including an auto repair shop, an alterations boutique and an urban design firm.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.


  1. Politics is the most expensive form of entertainment my money is forced to buy.

    There is some real comedy here. Before she is even interviewed by Congress for the job in the State Department, let alone appointed, Tauscher endorses Mark DeSaulnier for her spot. Then she gets her new office, and now someone claims that because she got the office retroactively the time line of history needs to be erased of all references to what she did before. Let’s think about that…if she had not gotten the spot would the same thing apply? Since when do we go back in time and updated past statements based on current occupation? Would it mean that Hilary, as Secretary of State, would have to disavow her endorsement of Barrack Obama who is now President and that Obama could not say that ‘after the primary I was endorsed by Hilary Clinton.’
    That this would be stooped to does not surprise me, that the rather restrained and understated comment from the DeSaulnier camp of ‘seriously?’ was all that was fit to print and was not interrupted by peels of laughter is the more interesting aspect….seriously!

  2. EdBirsan nailed it. The “Seriously?” response was classic. I couldn’t stop laughing when I first saw it.

  3. Frankly, I think the Lt. Governor missed an opportunity.
    If he had taken a page from the http://www.SunlightFoundation.com book, and embraced Open-Government & Transparency, he may have come across a Citizen Oversight & Accountability report such as this one:

    If Ellen’s scores only 5 out of 14 = 37% for Legislative-effort, according to her own constituents, the question the Lt. should ask is: “Does the endorsement mean we will get more of the same?”

    With the poor report card no Town halls, I’d expect Senator DeSaulnier to start singing slogan #3 from the Obama campaign, “Time for Change”, http://ow.ly/hB77 .

    P.S. Never Trust a Political Poll that fails to include your opinion! This one above is open 24/7-365

    Lt. & all come see the future of Democracy. http://ow.ly/hB8k

  4. Edi, please at least give Bezis the respect that he deserves as a lawyer.

    Read his first page – he is complaining about DeSaulnier continuing to distribute the literature in question, not “erasing the timeline” or some such metaphorical wackiness.

    The law’s the law. You’re a lawyer? Then make a legalistic argument that will challenge Bezis’ contentions on its merits.

    You think Katie Merrill’s comment is hilarious? Here’s one for you, how about looking up who she is and how objective she is to this issue. “DeSaulnier camp” my foot….What’s truly hilarious is how slickly this coronation is being presented as authentically democratic.

    Speaking to the OTHER former Tauscher staffer’s assertion, that Garamendi was supposedly seeking Tauscher’s endorsement – when was that, before he even hinted at entering the race? Really?

    I’m unclear how Tucker invoking a spurious “sour grapes” claim and simultaneously revising the timeline is in any way less hilarious than Bezis’ claim…do you swallow PR and say “thank you”, but instantly dismiss a legal brief?

    Let’s be honest. Everyone knows why George Miller, Tom Torlakson, and Ellen Tauscher immediately endorsed Mark DeSaulnier. It was to scare off Joan Buchanan from running for Congress, by quickly gathering around a single candidate, well before Garamendi ever publicly expressed any interest in this seat.

    There’s an entrenched Democratic machine in central Contra Costa. Outsiders to that machine, no matter how qualified, are made to feel unwelcome, no matter their stances on issues or their loyalty to the party-at-large. Buchanan and Garamendi are not welcome to this contest, and everyday voters in central Contra Costa and the 3 other counties in the 10th District are out of the loop on the machine’s inner workings. The powers-that-be of the local Democratic machine long ago decided who gets the nod – the fellow that was appointed by Pete Wilson, the recent contributor to Republican campaigns, namely, DeSaulnier.

    DeSaulnier decided that he couldn’t credibly run for office here in central Contra Costa registered as a Republican. He could get appointed by a Republican Governor, sure, but not elected. So he changed his party registration in 2002. I don’t know who’s been more naive in this whole affair – you or other DeSaulnier supporters? Keep an eye next on the gullible cogs in the local machine that will soon be asked to help send Proposition 8 backer Susan Bonilla to Sacramento..

    Or is the machine actually planning on sending her to DC? Why does her website title (look at the top of your browser window) say “Susan Bonilla for Congress 2010” – does she know something about George Miller’s future plans that the public isn’t allowed to know? Will DeSaulnier be elected to Congress to serve by his “good friend’s” side, only to see Miller retire shortly after? There goes DeSaulnier’s oft-cited hotline to Speaker Pelosi…

    How cynical is DeSaulnier himself? Is he claiming that he has this advantage over his Congressional opponents, this tight relationship with George Miller, when it’s apparently widely known within the central Contra Costa political machine that Miller is set to retire?

    Maybe that’s too speculative. However, as artifacts that can be found on Bonilla’s website indicate, she must have or has had intentions of succeeding George Miller. She is now apparently slated to inherit Tom Torlakson’s Assembly seat, which DeSaulnier held until this year but gave up in the musical chairs game that ensures political longevity. The music continues, but unfortunately, only an anointed few are allowed to play. And this is democratic?

  5. The question before us was whether DeSaulnier should not use the FACT that Tauscher endorsed him before she was appointed to the State Department or even officially interviewed for the job. Combined with this is the very odd assertion Tauscher should insist that this matter of history should be suppressed. This is a laughable position for anyone of any profession to take. All the rest of the bluster is a totally different subject matter….and a rather very ‘subjective’ matter at that, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand…. seriously (break for laughter).

  6. William Shakespeare had it right in King Henry VI

    ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.’

    Now I am not endorcing killing anyone but the fact is

    they sure waste a lot of people’s time!

  7. I’m not in the “connected” or a part of any “machine.” This pre-endorsement did stink. Also, I hate to hear about the Demo. “machine” of Central Contra Costa in the comments, especially about anyone getting the pre-approved “nod” before running. I’m tired of the who’s who always looking to jump into the next goverment seat, especially when they have hardly done any time or anything in their current seat – it stinks. We need someone that is an outsider with refreshing ideas that doesn’t owe the “machine.” Geez, I thought the stink was from the refineries, but I guess its all those that just set their sights on the next power seat in Contra Costa. The hot air they’ve been putting out just stinks.

  8. Ditto to EdiBirsan comment. I have no opinion on the CD 10 race. Would love to see a fresh face. But it is absurd to say either that Tauscher should not have endorsed (before she joined State) or that DeSaulnier should no longer circulate campaign material that includes her pre-State endorsement.

  9. It not only violates State Department rules, it violates The Hatch Act which precludes any federal employee from engaging in political activity, particularly endorsements.

  10. Arne… the Hatch Act would not apply to a person who was not a hired federal employee at the time of the activity. Unless you want to argue that elected officials may not engage in political activity..,that would be very funny and I would love to see someone write those arrest warrants.

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