SACRAMENTO — Common Cause called Monday for adoption of a package of "reform" measures that would raise the salaries of state lawmakers while restricting the gifts, trips, honorariums and outside income they can receive.
The citizens' lobbying group also proposed measures to strengthen conflict-of-interest laws for state officials, restrict lobbying by former government officials and increase enforcement of ethics laws by creating a special prosecutor's office.
"Clearly there is an ethics crisis in this country, a political ethics crisis," said Walter Zelman, executive director of Common Cause. "The time for political reform has never been better--there's so much scandal."
Among the recent cases he cited were the indictment of Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) on charges of racketeering and extortion, the indictment of Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) on a charge of forgery and the investigations of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's personal finances.
But Zelman acknowledged that the Common Cause proposal, which includes many measures offered in the past, was unlikely to win the Legislature's approval.
"As a whole, it's a difficult package to pass," he said. "Realistically, I think it's going to be hard for the Legislature to enact reform legislation this year."
Common Cause unveiled its package as the Assembly Ethics Committee prepares to put together its own proposals, draft a code of ethics for the Assembly and endorse bills that already have been introduced.
Among its provisions, the group's 13-point proposal would:
- Prohibit legislators from receiving any honorariums, except those that come from bona fide educational institutions or publications.
- Forbid state officials from accepting gifts, except those of nominal value. Gifts of interstate and foreign travel would specifically be banned.
- Prohibit elected officials from earning outside income.
- Toughen existing restrictions on the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures.
The proposed limits on legislators' income would be offset by a salary increase, Zelman said. Legislators now make $40,816 a year, plus a tax-free allowance of $88 a day most of the year.
However, Zelman would not say what salary Common Cause believes legislators should receive, saying instead the group supports legislation creating a commission to set the lawmakers' pay.
To bolster enforcement of ethics laws, the group called for measures to protect whistle-blowers who report violations, strengthen the authority of the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to take action against unethical behavior and create a special prosecutor's office to investigate corruption cases.