Sexual harassment allegations against San Diego congressional candidate Carl DeMaio have rocked his campaign and bring to the fore claims of similar behavior reported last year by Voice of OC.
DeMaio -- “a new generation Republican” who has become one of the highest profile openly gay members of the party -- is alleged to have kissed, groped the crotch of, and masturbated in front of his policy director, Todd Bosnich.
Bosnich says he was fired last May after he gave DeMaio an ultimatum to either cease his behavior that began in December 2013, or drop out of the race against incumbent Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat.
Bosnich, who is also openly gay, first made his allegations during a June interview with a conservative talk radio host in San Diego. But the interview was never broadcast, with Bosnich's claims not made public until Oct. 10 when CNN aired its own expose.
DeMaio, who was raised in Orange County, has denied Bosnich's assertions, saying in a statement: “The allegations are completely false, and is clearly nothing more than a smear campaign during the last 20 days before the election.”
The DeMaio-Peters race is among the most hotly contested congressional contests in the country with polls now showing a dead heat.
Peters’ 52nd District seat is seen as crucial for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives; so much so that House Speaker John Boehner came to San Diego on Oct. 11 for a DeMaio $1,000 a plate fundraiser.
An Ongoing Pattern
DeMaio's pattern of allegations and denials in this case is similar to last August when the Voice of OC published claims by state Sen. Ben Hueso, who served with DeMaio on the San Diego City Council.
Hueso alleges that twice in 2009 he witnessed DeMaio masturbating in a restricted bathroom after DeMaio had delivered fiery political speeches during council meetings.
San Diego Councilwoman Marti Emerald confirmed Hueso's account, saying she encountered a shocked Hueso outside the restroom immediately after the first incident.
DeMaio aggressively denied Hueso's allegations, calling them "dirty politics" during television interviews. He also claimed to have passed a polygraph test, but never released the complete test results.
At the time of the article, DeMaio was on a short list of GOP candidates to run for the San Diego mayoral seat, which was being vacated by Democrat Bob Filner who himself was forced to resign because of sexual harassment.
But San Diego Republican leaders -- following a now-infamous private meeting in La Jolla -- instead threw support behind Kevin Faulconer (who ultimately won the seat), because DeMaio was seen as too divisive, according to those familiar with the meeting.
Nonetheless, the GOP establishment remained steadfastly behind DeMaio's congressional campaign, launching an attack against Voice of OC and its partners for publishing the article.
A specific target was PBS SoCaL, which at the time had an on-air partnership with Voice of OC. It started with a post on Jon Fleischman's conservative Flash Report with the headline: "Local PBS Affiliate is linked to Smear Campaign of Gay Republican."
GOP insiders also delivered a dossier to PBS station chief Mel Rogers attacking the Voice of OC's reporting on the DeMaio article and others.
Rogers defended the Voice of OC's reporting during that meeting and during an on-air interview with John Phillips, a conservative talk radio host and an Orange County Register columnist.
However, PBS did ultimately terminate the partnership, officially ending it in September.
Meanwhile, though the story was making waves in Orange County and picked up by numerous national media outlets, the San Diego media largely ignored it. It also was a non-issue in the ongoing congressional campaign.
That changed with CNN's story on Bosnich's allegations. And DeMaio's campaign, with the help of high-level Republican operatives, used similar tactics during the course of CNN's reporting.
From the CNN story:
After interviewing Bosnich on camera, CNN repeatedly tried to get detailed answers from DeMaio's campaign.
Last week, CNN officials participated in a conference call, which they were led to believe would be an opportunity to ask questions. Instead, they wrote that the call was led by hired consultant Richard Grenell, a former Mitt Romney presidential campaign spokesperson and Fox News contributor. Grenell refused to answer questions and accused CNN of being on a partisan witch hunt.
This week, DeMaio refused to respond to a list of written questions sent to him by the Voice of OC about the Bosnich allegations.
Dems: Bosnich's Claims Back Up Hueso
Since the CNN story broke, Bosnich's account has been cited as backing up Hueso's earlier report.
“This absolutely corroborates what Ben Hueso said a year ago,” said Jess Durfee, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.
Bibianne Fell, Bosnich’s San Diego attorney, said: “Oh yes, it is corroboration. It is the same thing. It is part of a pattern.”
CNN had an audio copy of the Mike Slater on KFMB AM 760 radio interview with Bosnich, but hasn’t broadcast it. The audio tape of Slater’s interview was posted Oct. 13 by the San Diego City Beat newspaper.
On the tape, Bosnich says it was known among working campaign office staff that DeMaio allegedly would cloister himself in his private office to masturbate. This caused Bosnich to express concern in the interview for young staff, interns and volunteers, some of whom may be vulnerable, gay minors.
That interview was on June 2 -- the day before the congressional primary elections. By Fell and Bosnich’s telling, he sought to disclose DeMaio’s behavior to allow the local Republican Party to line up behind another candidate.
“We can’t have this in San Diego,” Bosnich said in the unbroadcast interview about a DeMaio election, also noting the irony of Filner being ousted for repeated harassment of women.
Bosnich is not now available for an interview, said Fell. But she and Bosnich’s own words in the interview tape portray him as a 28-year-old, life-long, idealistic Republican who went to work for a “charismatic” DeMaio in October 2013 -- only to be “devastated” by what he termed “disgusting” advances.
Before he was terminated by the DeMaio campaign May 19, Bosnich has said he was offered a job with the Republican Party of San Diego County and $50,000, if he signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Bosnich has said he refused the offers and signed nothing. San Diego Republican Party chairman Tony Krvaric wrote in an email to the Voice of OC such “employment was never considered, let alone offered.”
But to this day, Fell said, Bosnich hasn’t been provided the required official notice of why he was terminated by the DeMaio campaign -- which would have facilitated securing unemployment payments if they were sought.
Fell said providing an ex-employee with such a written notice would be expected of someone who wished to serve in Congress.
Bosnich was terminated as direct retaliation for objecting to the harassment, said Fell.
Publicly, DeMaio has stated Bosnich was fired for “plagiarism” -- allegedly associated with a May 12 campaign report that claimed to uncover congressional pension double dipping.
However, it was revealed quickly after DeMaio’s report was released that most of the material was from a 2013 National Journal investigative article, with the Washington D.C.-based journal criticizing the DeMaio campaign’s apparent misappropriation.
At the time of that disclosure, DeMaio apologized, declining to blame his staff. Since, Bosnich has said he had little to do with the pension report, and didn’t engage in plagiarism.
The events surrounding Bosnich’s departure have spawned two San Diego police investigations, officials say.
One probe is focused on the harassment allegations and associated events, with Fell saying police first contacted Bosnich shortly after the June 2 talk show interview.
Fell is adamant that her client did not initially report the harassment or the money offer to police. Once police were involved, however, Bosnich took a polygraph test. The results of the June 14 test were later provided to CNN and other media.
The results show "no deception indicated."
During questioning at a press conference Oct. 8 in San Diego, DeMaio acknowledged he was interviewed by vice police, but contended he was cleared and that probe was closed; with DeMaio noting that word came directly to him from San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
But Fell says Bosnich, as the victim, has never been notified by police that any inquiry about the harassment was completed.
“It is still open as far as we know,” she said, declining further details.
The second police probe involves a purported break-in at DeMaio’s campaign headquarters in San Diego on the night of May 27/28. News television footage shows a computer monitor smashed, fluid spilled on a laptop and cut power cords.
In a recent press statement, DeMaio said Bosnich “only made these false allegations after police started investigating him as the suspect for the break-in.”
But Fell disputed this, saying “the timing doesn’t make sense.”
Fell said it was “weeks or months” later in the summer before police contacted Bosnich regarding the campaign office break-in, long after the June 2 talk show taping about the harassment.
Fell said they are considering filing actions under state or federal employee protection laws, and/or a civil defamation lawsuit.
“He didn’t want any of this coming out,” said Fell of her client. “He knew DeMaio would try to ruin him in every way he could. He is young; he had a bright career in front of him; he didn’t want to jeopardize that.”
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that San Diego police asked Todd Bosnich for a polygraph test. They did not.
Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.