Should DA Chief of Staff Disclose Financial Interests?

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, is the only one of the DA’s five highest-ranking executives who isn’t required each year to reveal personal financial interests on public disclosure forms.

According to a range of government experts, Schroeder’s exemption from the 40-year-old requirement means one of two things: either she should be disclosing her financial interests, or her title and job description make her sound far more important than she is.

“If she’s (Schroeder) influencing decisions, it should be disclosed,” said Tracy Westen, an expert on California government ethical issues.

According to the official job description produced by the DA's office in response to a Public Records Act request, Schroeder, a lawyer, reports directly to Rackauckas, giving “advice on high-profile, sensitive cases.” In addition, she is involved in myriad other duties, including providing “confidential staff support to the District Attorney on the most sensitive and complex matters.” She also is in charge of the DA’s news media team.

Download document: Susan Schroeder Job Description

“I can’t imagine a ‘chief of staff’ of the District Attorney not being a designated person” who is required to publicly disclose financial interests, said Shirley Grindle, author of Orange County's local campaign finance ordinance in 1978 and a longtime critic of Rackauckas.

Rackauckas, who easily won re-election last year to a fifth, four-year term, and Schroeder, who was his most recent political campaign manager in addition to serving as his government chief of staff, declined to be interviewed about why she is exempt from filing the disclosure forms.

Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

California voters in 1974 approved a ballot proposition designed to regulate political campaign contributions and shed light on potential conflicts of interest by elected officials and government employees.

The Political Reform Act, which went into effect in 1975, created the California Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC to enforce the law.

Among other things, the law requires thousands of government workers statewide to file annual conflict of interest statements. In Orange County, about 2,275 of the roughly 16,000 county workers file the forms each year.

“The intent was not to show how wealthy someone was but to show what potential conflicts they might have in making or participating in making decisions,” said Bob Stern, who helped write the Political Reform Act.

Those who have to file either make or participate in making “governmental decisions that could affect their personal economic interests,” according to the FPPC.

Known in government jargon as 700 Forms, the conflict statements show the public the sources of a public employee’s income as well as gifts, tickets, loans, investments, travel or other offerings that might influence the worker’s decisions.

For example, county Assessor’s office workers who make or participate in making decisions on assessments, are required to file.

But Rackauckas has determined that, in spite of her title as chief of staff, Schroeder’s job is exempt from filing the forms.

“It’s not the name of the position” that determines whether a government worker has to file a conflict of interest form, said Stern. “It’s what she does.”

Because Schroeder doesn’t file a conflict of interest form, it’s not known what personal economic interests she has or had since being given the chief of staff title in 2010. She has worked for Rackauckas since he first was elected in 1999.

Until last year, she was married to former California Republican Party chairman and behind-the-scenes GOP powerhouse Michael J. Schroeder, a multi-millionaire who helped create malpractice insurance companies for chiropractors and has been active in creating or running trade associations for chiropractors, massage parlor operators, acupuncture practitioners and podiatrists. Michael Schroeder also was Rackauckas’ 2014 election campaign chairman.

The DA’s office has prosecuted a number of chiropractors and massage therapists in the past 12 years, including cases where Susan Schroeder’s name is listed on news releases as the official contact.

According to the DA’s news media web page, “Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder provides legal and policy advice to the District Attorney, founded and co-heads the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, and has other case-related responsibilities. Under the supervision of the Chief of Staff, the Spokesperson and two assistants aid the OCDA in investigations and trial preparations, formulate strategies, provide analysis, and develop policies.”

She also, according to her job description, represents Rackauckas “at meetings, conferences, Boards, Commissions, and other public and private events.”

Requirements for her job include “possession of: Mental stamina and resilience sufficient to engage in difficult and complex interaction with managers and officials with differing points of view, regarding sensitive and complex operational issues.”

As of 2013, the latest figures available, she earned a $144,830.40 salary plus benefits for a total of $229,275.76.

Who is Susan Kang Schroeder?

Susan Heesoo Kang Schroeder was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. 37 years ago when she was 10 years old.

She’s a lawyer who worked as a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party in the 1990s and, according to the Los Angeles Times, was engaged to Michael Schroeder when newly-elected Orange County District Attorney Rackauckas hired her in 1999. Michael Schroeder was the California Republican chairman at the time and was instrumental in Rackauckas’ election.

Currently, she also acts as Rackauckas’ chief spokeswoman on high-profile cases, like the trial of two former Fullerton police officers who were tried by Rackauckas but acquitted of wrongdoing in the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.

Michael and Susan Schroeder divorced in 2014, according to county records. But Rackauckas, in his January 20 swearing-in ceremony speech, said Michael Schroeder served as his campaign chairman last year when he won with more than 73 percent of the vote. Susan Schroeder was his campaign manager. They apparently volunteered because their names don’t show on campaign statements as being paid.