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Schwarzenegger administration rolls out new ethics policy

March 07, 2009|Evan Halper

SACRAMENTO — After a state Cabinet official's resignation amid questions about her outside income and the free use of government expense accounts by the top aide and other appointees of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the administration on Friday announced new ethics rules for senior staff.

Under the new guidelines, administration officials will conduct a legal review of each annual statement of economic interest filed by the governor's senior advisors to ensure they do not have outside business dealings that create a conflict of interest. The administration will also post those statements and the travel expense reports filed by senior officials on the state government website.

"The governor has ordered a crackdown, and we are going after anyone who is not following the rules," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear.

The moves come after Rosario Marin, head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, resigned Thursday amid questions from The Times about income she received for giving speeches to private companies, some of which were doing business with her agency. State law bars administration officials from accepting speaking fees in most situations.

Marin's travel also raised concern among ethics experts. Earlier in the week, The Times reported that the state paid to fly her to a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C., where she collected a fee. She reimbursed the state for the airfare after Times inquiries.

Other high-ranking state officials also appeared to make free use of government expense accounts with little oversight. Carrie Lopez, the director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, charged taxpayers to fly from Sacramento to Los Angeles to attend a Justin Timberlake concert with her daughter. The concert tickets were paid for by Sempra Energy.

Lopez released a statement Friday saying she has reimbursed the state for the travel.

"While I feel my attendance was legitimate, I apologize for the distraction it has caused and will reimburse the State for travel as well as pay back the concert tickets to Sempra Energy," her statement said. "The public's trust in my ability to execute my duties is the driving force behind my decision."

Lopez's statement also included a lengthy defense of her decision to travel to the concert at taxpayer expense. She said she attended a dinner meeting prior to the event, and various government programs were discussed with corporate, nonprofit and legislative officials.

She called the meeting a "convenient and cost effective" way to deal with several issues.

Ethics experts appeared skeptical that the new ethics rules announced by the administration would go far enough.

Tracy Westen, chief executive of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, expressed bewilderment at the actions of Marin and others in the administration.

"The idea that you would take money to give a speech to an organization you are regulating is incomprehensible to me," Westen said. "I can't imagine why alarm bells were not going off all over Sacramento. . . . They need to send out a government-wide memo on what the rules are. Clearly these people do not know."

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evan.halper@latimes.com

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