Since 1981, Los Angeles County supervisors have received a cornucopia of gifts, everything from an ashtray from deposed Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos to free trips to South Africa, a Times study shows.
Liquor by the case, color television sets, cameras, guns, clothing and ceiling fans were included in the bounty--many from people doing business with the county--along with complimentary admission to concerts, plays, amusement parks, movies and sporting events at home and abroad.
In all, gifts to the five supervisors totaled $322,996, according to annual reports filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Much of that total, which includes gifts to the supervisors' deputies, is from people or businesses doing business with the county. At the same time, a major portion appears to be merely good-will gestures from longtime supporters or friends.
Supervisor Pete Schabarum tops his colleagues in the number and value of gifts, with $76,361 worth. He is followed by Ed Edelman ($63,544), Mike Antonovich ($47,253), Deane Dana ($45,358) and Kenneth Hahn ($21,342).
Not included in the $322,996 gift total are perhaps hundreds of gifts valued at less than $50 each that do not have to be reported. Further skewing the total is whether supervisors choose to accept free trips, for example, or finance them from campaign funds. Hahn used campaign funds to pay for a 1982 trip to China and therefore did not report it as a gift. Similar China trips taken by Schabarum and Dana as guests of the Chinese government were reported as gifts.
Lavishing presents on elected officials is, of course, a time-honored political tradition, accepted by everyone from the President on down. In California, they have been a matter of public record since 1974 when voters overwhelmingly passed the Political Reform Act. All public officials in the state--elected or appointed--must report annually all gifts or honorariums valued at $50 or more.
The Times' examination of the supervisors' gifts comes during an era of increasing public uneasiness about the degree to which campaign contributions and private lobbying influence government decisions. There have been recent moves in Sacramento and Washington to limit, for example, the amount of honorariums and other outside income a lawmaker can receive in light of charges that the practice has become excessive.
No such movement exists in Los Angeles County government, however. If anything, the supervisors say that evenings at the Music Center, all-expense-paid trips abroad or $2,000 checks for a noontime speech are not only a common perquisite among elected officials, but may also at times be part of their job.
A review of the annual disclosure statements reveals the names of some of the county's most prominent individuals, powerful developers, successful businessmen and largest companies. The donor lists also include former officeholders and county officials who are now working as lobbyists, major universities and community organizations.
Among the listed givers was the owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Times Mirror Co., which provided Schabarum with tickets to two company-sponsored events in 1984 and 1985.
Other prominent gift givers were theater owner James Nederlander, former Arco chairman Robert O. Anderson, shopping center developers Alexander Haagen and Guilford Glazer, and Walter Zable of Cubic Corp.
Also on the gift-giving list was businessman W. Patrick Moriarty, who gave Schabarum a $50 Christmas wreath in 1982. Later, Moriarty was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to other politicians in an attempt to secure state legislation to legalize fireworks.
Many of the gift givers contacted by The Times declined to be interviewed, but those who did speak with a reporter said the gifts they provided were intended to show their friendship for a supervisor, not to influence him. Many added that because the supervisors have appointed them to various county commissions, they already have access and that the gift does not enhance that.
(The Fair Political Practices Commission disclosure statements studied for this article covered the calendar years 1981-1986, which correspond with the current board membership's representation of Los Angeles County's five supervisorial districts. Gifts and honorariums received during 1987 will be filed with the commission in April, 1988).
Four supervisors interviewed about their gift-accepting policies all discounted any quid pro quo but conceded that the public might have trouble believing that. (Hahn, convalescing at home from a recent stroke, declined to be interviewed.)
'No Strings Attached'
"Generally, when there are no strings attached and when they're appropriate, I accept gifts, " Edelman said.
"I never take cash or anything like that," Dana said.