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Politicians must disclose free tickets, California regulators say

Officials will be required to list receipt of free tickets to concerts and sporting events they attend as part of their duties. The rules come amid outcry over Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's use of gift tickets.

September 18, 2010|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials will have to disclose on the Internet their receipt of free tickets to concerts and sporting events that they attend as part of their ceremonial duties.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission approved the new disclosure rule Friday amid public outcry over reports that Villaraigosa had not reported dozens of gift tickets to concerts, awards shows and ballgames. The mayor has argued that he did not believe it necessary to report the tickets under state law because he attended the events as part of his official duties.

The new disclosure requirement is meant to shed light on who might be trying to gain the favor of an elected official by giving them tickets to the Academy Awards, a Dodgers game or a Lady Gaga concert. The regulation provides "additional information to the public as to potential sources of undue influence on elected officials," said Roman Porter, executive director of the ethics agency.

It will also help the public determine to what extent politicians are taking advantage of their positions to enjoy perks not affordable or accessible to the average voter, according to Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles group that advocates openness in government.

The argument that an official is there to hand out a proclamation or represent City Hall, Stern said, "oftentimes is an excuse for the official to go to an event all of us would like to attend."

He said businesses and individuals often give tickets to officials as part of an effort to gain access to them.

In the last five years, the mayor has accepted tickets to entertainment and sports events from firms seeking favorable decisions from City Hall, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center and L.A. Live. The FPPC said in June that it was investigating whether Villaraigosa was acting in his ceremonial role when he accepted the thousands of dollars worth of tickets.

A spokeswoman for Villaraigosa said Friday that the mayor would do what is required.

"We support openness and transparency in government, and the mayor believes he has fully complied with existing law and will comply with this new rule when it goes into effect," spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said in an e-mail.

Effective in about 30 days, information about free tickets must be disclosed within 30 days of receipt on the Internet site of the elected official's agency: that includes the name of the official, a description of the event, the date, the face value of the tickets, who provided them, the number of tickets received and a description of the "public purpose" for which they were provided.

Tickets used by government officials who are not performing ceremonial duties must already be disclosed as gifts on annual financial statements filed with the state.

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted to recommend that high-level city officials be barred from accepting free entry to entertainment and athletic events if the donor of the ticket has business pending before the city.

FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur declined a request by another commissioner Friday to rescind a new policy under which the commission publicly posts the formal complaints it receives of campaign finance violations and other alleged misconduct before an investigation is complete. Schnur said the postings make the complaint process more transparent.

The request was supported by James C. Harrison, head of the California Political Attorneys Assn., who objected that the policy could lead to frivolous, politically motivated complaints.

"Publicly posting a list of pending investigations makes it all but certain that the FPPC will become a pawn in political campaigns," Harrison wrote to Schnur.

Schnur said the matter would be revisited after the November election.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Times staff writer David Zahniser in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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