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California Legislature releases members' spending records

The action comes after growing political and legal pressure. The reports, which Assembly leaders had previously said were protected from public disclosure, are posted on the Assembly and Senate websites.

August 27, 2011|By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento -- Under growing political and legal pressure, the Legislature has released members' spending records, information that Assembly leaders had previously said was protected from public disclosure.

The records, posted on each chamber's website late Friday, came after a handful of lawmakers broke ranks to release their office budgets, and several media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, sued the Legislature for the information.

Assembly officials denied requests for members' current spending reports last month, citing provisions of state law that exempt legislative memoranda and correspondence.

The records fight stems from a feud between Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who sought the documents partly to clear his name after Pérez labeled him a profligate spender and slashed his budget.

The records released Friday show Portantino to be the Assembly's largest spender, burning through $297,579 in the first eight months of this legislative session. But they represent a partial accounting. The documents don't connect the lawmakers to the spending of the powerful committees they chair or special allotments given to Pérez's top lieutenants.

Pérez's budget shows up as a middle-of-the-pack $225,000, though he controls far more taxpayer money. Sums allocated to his leadership team have totaled nearly $3.3 million.

The Democratic Caucus expenditures have been an additional $6.67 million. The far smaller Republican Caucus had spent $4.57 million through the end of July.

The records drew the scrutiny of the watchdog group Common Cause, which said the documents "bare little new information and avoid detailed descriptions of how money is spent in the Legislature."

Portantino went further, saying Democratic leaders were playing games with the public's money and his reputation.

"It's a joke," he said of the records. "This is cooking the books at its worst, and it's an insult to the public of California."

In a statement, Pérez said he was committed to transparency, describing the documents as the first step toward modernizing the Assembly's records policies. He has formed a task force to study the chamber's disclosure rules and make suggestions for next year. His office dismissed Portantino's allegations.

"It's more manufactured drama from Anthony Portantino," said Pérez spokeswoman Robin Swanson. "All of the information is on the website. He seems to be acting an awful lot like Donald Trump after President Obama's birth certificate was released."

Until now, spending disclosure has been delayed. Each year, each chamber publishes a report on Nov. 30 detailing members' spending for the preceding year, and staff salaries are posted on the chambers' websites.

On Friday, the Assembly released last year's spending in addition to the first eight months of this year's legislative session. The Senate released records for the last session.

The Senate, which is half the size of the Assembly, reported total spending of $101.2 million for the legislative year ending Nov. 30, 2010. That included $37 million spent by senators on their offices, $25.6 million for committees and research, $4.6 million for caucus and floor leadership and $33.1 million for "general overhead and support services."

Senators and their staff spent $384,000 on travel, $390,000 on automobile expenses and repair and $100,000 on meals.

Then-Sen. Denise Ducheny, a San Diego Democrat and former Budget Committee chairwoman, spent the most on her staff and office operations — $1.28 million overall. She was followed by Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), the minority leader, whose office spent $1.19 million.

In this year's session, the Assembly has spent a total of $86.2 million, including $47.3 million on staff salaries, $29.5 million on employee benefits and $2.8 million on office rent, maintenance and utilities. An additional $550,370 went for office supplies, $175,203 for postage and $1.2 million for "miscellaneous services."

michael.mishak@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Shane Goldmacher contributed to this report.

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