Dear California Lawmakers: Time to Disclose Your Budgets and Expenditures

Assembly Speaker John Perez

The battle in the Assembly over whether lawmakers are required to disclose their budgets and expenditures wages on. In a previous post I questioned, "Do Californians Have the Right to See the Current Budgets and Expenditures of their Lawmakers?" My answer is essentially this: save for truly privileged, personal information in those documents, the amount of money our lawmakers receive and spend is the public's business.

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We are talking about a group of citizens who decided to avail themselves of the public forum - indeed who asked us to allow them to represent us - and who are paid by, and use our taxpayer dollars to accomplish that task. I do not care even a little bit about the personal finances of our elected officials. If it doesn't affect the way our representatives do their jobs, and it doesn't concern my taxpayer dollars, then by all means, keep that information private.

Assemblyman Antony Portantino (D) asked the Assembly to disclose the current budgets and expenditures of lawmakers in order to disprove Assembly Speaker John Perez's (D) claim that Portantino was an extravagant spender. The Assembly Rules Committee denied that request. The Committee argued that the budgets are subject to change and may contain private communications to lawmakers or confidential personnel information. The Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times have sued to obtain that information.

Speaker Perez created a task force to examine disclosure policies. This allows Speaker Perez to say he's doing something without actually, well, doing something. The Speaker is quite likely hoping this story will die down before he's forced to do more.

In the meantime, seizing the political moment, last week a group four of Republican Assembly members voluntarily released their office budgets. The 28-member Republican caucus has essentially joined Portantino (who also released his monthly expenditures) and asked the Assembly to disclose that information for all members.

It is time to enact common sense rules that allow the public to see the money given to and spent by, their elected representatives. If there is truly confidential information, then it should be determined whether such information can be redacted.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user Randy Bayne. 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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