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California lawmakers showered with gifts after shelving limits

March 02, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • Gov. Jerry Brown gives his State of the State address in January flanked by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). All three reported Saturday that they accepted gifts last year.
Gov. Jerry Brown gives his State of the State address in January flanked… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO -- Despite efforts to restrict the practice, California elected officials were showered with gifts last year from special interest groups, including tickets to Lakers and Giants games, concerts, cigars, expensive meals, lodging at casino resorts, golf games and foreign travel, according to records released Saturday.

In August, legislators killed a measure that would have prevented companies that hire lobbyists from providing lawmakers and their families with tickets to amusement parks, racetracks and professional sporting events, as well as rounds of golf, spa treatments and gift cards.

Former Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) authored the bill that passed the Senate but died in the Assembly. He said gifts are not needed for lawmakers to do their jobs.

"I think the public is fed up with these overly cozy relationships between powerful moneyed interests and legislators," said Blakeslee, who runs the California Reform Institute, a think tank on improving state government. "The public expects better."

One of the biggest benefiters of gifts in 2012 was Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), according to annual financial disclosure statements that all elected officials had to file by Friday with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Perez reported accepting $17,800 in gifts, including $5,830 in travel expenses for an education trip to South Korea paid for by the Korean American Economic Development Corp. Perez also received 28 meals, including an $89 dinner from Comcast Corp., as well as nine gifts of cigars and eight cigar boxes, a $100 crystal duck from the California Retailers Assn., as well as concert and sports tickets.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare accepted about $10,500 in gifts, including Disneyland passes worth $200 from Walt Disney Co., horse racing tickets and meals worth $305 from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, an $83 meal paid for by the prison guards union and $250 in meals and lodging from the Pechanga Resort and Casino.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) accepted $4,400 in gifts last year, including a $256 ticket to a Giants baseball game from AT&T, a $140 dinner from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and $959 in food and lodging from the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Cos. for making a speech at the group’s conference.

Senate Republican Leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar reported $4,700 in gifts, including about $1,500 in travel expenses for a trip to Australia and New Zealand from various foreign government agencies including the parliament of New South Wales. Other gifts included $689 in food and lodging from the California Dental Assn. to participate in a conference panel, a $116 dinner from the California Hospital Assn. and a $94 dinner from the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

Former state Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Shafter), who resigned last month to take a job with Chevron Corp., reported receiving more than $8,500 in travel expenses for a trip to Brazil from the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, which is financed by firms including Chevron.

Gov. Jerry Brown reported accepting about $2,500 in gifts including a $150 ticket to a Lakers game from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a bottle of tequila from the governor of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, a $239 concert ticket from the San Francisco Symphony and a $250 ticket to the White House Correspondents' Dinner from Newsweek.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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