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California lawmakers kill measure banning gifts to themselves

Legislators cite the cost of enforcing the restrictions and broader rules being considered by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. But supporters say it shows their unwillingness to police themselves.

May 27, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • "Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors," said State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo).
"Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors,"… (Associated Press )

Reporting from Sacramento -- Companies lobbying state lawmakers for favorable treatment can continue to shower them with tickets to Disneyland, Dodgers games and rock concerts after legislators scuttled a bill Thursday that would have banned such gifts.

Members of a state Senate committee cited the $204,000 annual cost of enforcing such restrictions among the reasons they abandoned the proposal.

Chagrined supporters of a ban said the lawmakers showed their unwillingness to police themselves and take measures that would help restore public faith in government.

"The score is lobbyists 1, public 0," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said his proposal would not have been a cost burden. He cited comments by the state's former ethics czar that any expense was likely to have been covered by fines collected from violators.

"Once again, the Legislature failed to act on good-government reforms to improve the culture and transparency in the Capitol," said Blakeslee, who also supported an unsuccessful proposal to regulate automated political calls. "Instead, Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors."

Committee members said Senate leaders made the decision not to advance the bills, in part, because the state Fair Political Practices Commission is already considering broader regulations.

The commission ought to be allowed to act before lawmakers vote on proposals that are "oddly narrow," said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). She cited provisions of the Blakeslee bill "prohibiting certain gifts but not others."

Elected state officials accepted $637,000 in gifts last year, including tickets from AT&T to a Lakers game, a San Francisco Giants World Series game and golf at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, according to disclosures that lawmakers are required to file with the state.

In arguing for his proposal, Blakeslee cited a controversy in Los Angeles in which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently was fined $42,000 for accepting tickets to sports events, concerts and other entertainment without reporting them as gifts.

Blakeslee's bill, SB 18, would have barred lobbyists and their clients from giving state legislators and their family members specific gifts, including tickets to concerts, sporting events and amusement parks. The lobbyists would have been forbidden to pay for legislators' golf games, spa treatments and skiing.

The bill would not have extended the rules to local officials.

Dan Schnur, former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission and current director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, backed the Blakeslee bill. He expressed disappointment that lawmakers let it die.

"You'd think a Legislature with a single-digit approval rating," Schnur said, "would be more conscious of the low regard in which the voting public holds them."

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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