California Legislators Want Their Gifts

Last week California lawmakers killed a bill that would have prohibited them (and members of their families and other officials) from accepting certain gifts from lobbyists and their employers. Those seeking to curry favor with Golden State legislators take note. The gates of access remain open, for some.

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The state Senate Appropriations Committee, which prohibited the bill from even being put to a floor vote of our lawmakers, said the cost of enforcing the restrictions (an estimated $204,000) was too expensive. Of course, what lawmakers failed to consider is that the cost of fines could essentially cover the cost of policing the restrictions.

Disclosure statements show that our public servants accepted well over half a million dollars in gifts in 2010. The ban would have covered many of those gifts, including tickets to amusements parks, sporting events, and concerts. The bill also would have extended to spa treatments and fishing and golfing trips, among other things.

Under current law, a lobbyist's employer can give each official a gift worth $420 each year. Lobbyists can give a state official no more than $10 per month.

Alas Republican State Senator's bill, SB-18, is unlikely to see a floor vote or the light of day. The Appropriations Committee has seen to that. It is in the ominous "suspense file," which in this case is the place where good government reforms go to die.

Legislators, whose approval ratings are at all time lows, have once again failed to take any steps to attempt to build public trust and support. Why should the public's perception of their elected officials, and the integrity of governmental processes stand in the way of a good seat to a Dodger game or a nice day at the spa?

In a time of such skepticism about our public officials, when so many feel officials serve those with money first, and those who vote second, Senate Bill 18 would have been a step in the right direction. California's political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, is considering similar regulations. As a member of the California electorate, I hope those pass. Legislators seem unwilling to police themselves.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School and the Director of Political Reform at a non-profit, non-partisan think tank.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user JD Hancock. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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