Time to Reform Gift Regulations

Photo by Flickr user DailyCraft
Photo by Flickr user DailyCraft

The regulations promulgated under the 37-year old Political Reform Act are putting people to work. Yes, that's right, the regulations of the state's political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, are sometimes so complicated and confusing that they are no doubt helping to keep a segment of Californians employed - political attorneys. The sad fact is that because there are so many regulations many public officials need an expert to help them navigate through the web of rules.

The FPPC is tasked with, among other things, amending and adopting regulations to the Political Reform Act. The FPPC is to our state's government as the FEC is to the federal government.

The FPPC's new Chairwoman, Ann Ravel, has made it her mission to institute much needed regulatory reform. Prior to punishing public officials for violations of the PRA, it is best to ensure that they understand all of the applicable rules.

Ravel and her staff have first focused on gift regulations. Those regulations detail when public officials can accept gifts and when those gifts must be discussed. The path to real reform is not always smooth. Like so many regulatory decisions, the choice of when and how to limit and require disclosure of gifts to public officials represents a balancing act between a public official's right to lead a personal life and have some level of privacy and the public's right to know. There are no perfect solutions, there instead good solutions which strike the proper balance.

After working for approximately five months, the staff of the FPPC has proposed many common sense solutions to clear this complex regulatory thicket. Many of the more minor changers were unanimously passed by the five-member commission at their meeting this month. The commissioners will vote on the remainder of the proposed changes next month.

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

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