UPDATED 8:10 P.M. See DeSaulnier campaign manager Katie Merrill’s response below.
The U.S. State Department has asked 10th District Congressional candidate and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier to remove all references in his campaign materials to his endorsement from former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who is now undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. State Department.
While a legal adviser to the U.S. State Department concludes that the endorsement broke no laws or policies, “Under Secretary Tauscher is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, on behalf of Undersecretary Tauscher, I have asked Senator DeSaulnier to remove all references in his campaign material of any endorsement she may have made,” wrote James Thessin, deputy legal adviser and designed agency ethics official.
DeSaulnier campaign manager Katie Merrill said a few minutes ago that she had not seen the letter nor was she aware of the request but would get back to me tonight issued this statement:
“Former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher endorsed Mark DeSaulnier for Congress in March. Mark and the Congresswoman have worked together on many issues of importance to this district, and he is proud to have her sole endorsement.
The Garamendi campaign filed this frivolous complaint out of “sour grapes” because he asked for Congresswoman Tauscher’s endorsement and did not get it.
We said the complaint was frivolous at the time, and the State Dept. in this letter has confirmed that.
John Garamendi knows that his chances of winning this race are dwindling daily because he has little local support, few local endorsements, and doesn’t even live in the district. So he has resorted to negative tactics like filing frivolous complaints and wasting valuable resources of the U.S. State Department that I would imagine could go to far better use than this.
I expect we will see more negative tactics and gamesmanship from the Garamendi campaign in the next 4 weeks. It is how he has run his past campaigns, and that is unfortunate.
As for the request by the State Dept., the ballot pamphlets with Congresswoman Tauscher’s endorsement are printed, the TV ad on health care reform is running, and our brochures with her endorsement were produced months ago. As for the things we can change, we have a number of questions for the State Dept. about what qualifies and what doesn’t under their request. We will be in contact with them next week to get further clarification.”
It’s clear from the letter, though, that no laws were broken and DeSaulnier is under no legal obligation to cease his use of her endorsement, which is arguably one of DeSaulnier’s most valuable.
Tauscher endorsed DeSaulnier shortly after her name publicly surfaced as nominee to the State Department post. She has not participated in any campaign activities for DeSaulnier since she was formally nominated.
The letter I quoted was sent July 29 to Jason Bezis of Lafayette, who filed a complaint with the State Department about DeSaulnier’s use of Tauscher’s endorsement in his campaign materials.
Read on for the full text of the letter:
July 29, 2009
Dear Mr. Bezis,
We are in receipt of your letter of complaint dated July 16 and follow-up letter of July 27, concerning activities of Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher. The Department takes seriously our guidelines concerning political activities of senior employees, and we appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention. In that spirit, we have reviewed the complaint letter and its attachments. We believe that the materials disclose no violation of law or policy.
Our guidelines do not restrict political activities of Department employees before they join the Department. Under Secretary Tauscher began as an employee of the State Department on June 26,2009, having resigned from her former position as a Member of Congress shortly beforehand. The endorsements you cite in your letter and attachments refer to her by titles such as “Representative” and “Congresswoman,” and not “Under Secretary.” We understand that all these references concern endorsements made before she began employment with the State Department. Endorsements made before State Department employment violate no Department directive. You have not identified an instance where she endorsed publicly a partisan political candidate after having been appointed as a State Department employee.
Under Secretary Tauscher is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, on behalf of Under Secretary Tauscher I have asked Senator DeSaulnier to remove all references in his campaign material of any endorsement she may have made.
Again, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
James H. Thessin Deputy Legal Adviser and
Designated Agency Ethics Official