By Emily Hoeven
A dispatch from me and CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher: Legislative Republicans called Tuesday for an independent state audit to find out “what in the world happened” when the California Department of Justice briefly published the personal identifying information of more than 240,000 concealed carry weapon license applicants late last month.
- Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican: “There is no more private information that the Department of Justice and the Attorney General has in their possession than information about people who thought themselves at serious enough risk that they were able to demonstrate an outright need for (a concealed carry gun permit).”
The state Department of Justice on June 27 published an online web tool designed to show aggregate gun-related statistics, but that also allowed users to download a database containing the names, home addresses and other personal data of more than 240,000 concealed carry license applicants — including at least 140 current and former judges.
The dashboard was taken down within 24 hours of being published and remains offline three weeks later, along with other public data maintained by the department. The agency is directly contacting those affected and offering them free credit monitoring.
Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta called the data release “unacceptable” and announced an internal investigation. Last week, he pledged that he would “be holding folks accountable, appropriately.”
Few details of the internal investigation have been made public. However, the department in a July 8 newsletter — a product on which Bonta’s office spent nearly $205,000 in taxpayer funds to reach millions of voters ahead of last month’s primary election, according to a Sacramento Bee investigation — said Bonta on July 6 had secured outside counsel Morrison & Foerster LLP.
According to a web page linked in the newsletter, the team, composed of former state and federal prosecutors, will “investigate how this exposure occurred; supervise an outside forensic cyber expert to examine the data and what happened from a digital perspective; review DOJ policies and practices; and offer recommendations on mitigation, remedial steps, and other appropriate measures.”
Outside groups have already gone to court to find out more. On July 1, the National Association for Gun Rights — a rival advocacy group to the National Rifle Association — filed a class-action lawsuit against Bonta. On Monday, an Inland Empire attorney filed his own lawsuit, in part “to get discovery about how the leak happened,” the Press-Enterprise reported.
Patterson, a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said he wants “an independent set of eyes” to investigate. But first he’ll need the buy-in of two Democrats who lead the committee, Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield and state Sen. John Laird of Monterey.
Under the rules of the committee, any member can submit an audit request during the Legislature’s summer recess, as long as the audit itself costs less than $190,000. But there are plenty of ways to kill the effort: First, the chairperson and vice-chairperson have to sign off. Then, before the request is sent to the state auditor’s office, every committee member is given five days to offer their veto, which they can do secretly.
Neither Salas nor Laird responded to CalMatters’ requests for comment.
The audit request comes at a particularly politically sensitive time for both Bonta, who’s running for reelection a little more than a year after he was appointed to the position by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and for Salas, a moderate Democrat hoping to unseat GOP Rep. David Valadao in one of California’s most competitive congressional districts.
Valadao — the only member of California’s Republican House delegation who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump — was among six Golden State GOP representatives who voted Tuesday to establish federal protections for gay marriage.