Assembly Speaker John Prez received $17,800 in gifts. Assembly Republican… (Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo )
SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers accepted a trip to Brazil, fine cigars and crystal ducks, among many other gifts from corporations, trade groups and other special interests last year.
Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) received $17,800 in gifts — among the highest in total value, according to records released Saturday.
They included $5,830 in travel expenses for an education trip to South Korea paid for by the Korean American Economic Development Corp. Pérez also received concert and sports tickets, nine gifts of cigars, and a $100 crystal duck from the California Retailers Assn.
Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare accepted about $10,500 in gifts, including Disneyland Park passes worth $200 from Walt Disney Co., horse racing tickets and meals worth $305 from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and $250 in meals and lodging from the Pechanga Resort and Casino.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) took gifts worth $4,400. Among them were a $256 ticket to a Giants baseball game from AT&T and $959 in food and lodging from the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Companies for making a speech at the group's conference.
The Legislature and governor regulate gambling, horse racing, consumer issues and myriad other matters in California. The gifts were reported in annual financial disclosures that all elected officials were required to file with the state by midnight Friday.
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) offered the bill, which passed the state Senate but died in the Assembly. He said the gifts reported Saturday 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 now runs the California Reform Institute, a think tank on state government. "The public expects better.''
A trip to Australia and New Zealand was among the $4,700 in gifts reported by Senate Republican leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar. The travel expenses were about $1,500, according to Huff's disclosures, and came from government agencies including the Parliament of New South Wales, Australia. He also accepted $689 in food and lodging from the California Dental Assn. to participate in a conference panel.
Gov. Jerry Brown reported taking about $2,500 in gifts, including a $150 ticket to a Lakers basketball 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' Assn. dinner from Newsweek.
Derek Cressman, regional director of Common Cause, said it is human nature to feel gratitude when given a gift, and it can be seen as rude if the generosity is ignored.
"Corporate interests know this, which is why they shower legislators with gifts with the hope and expectation of receiving a favor in return," Cressman said. "That's why the public should insist on an end to this practice.''
Former state Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Shafter), who resigned last month to work for 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 companies including Chevron.
Already facing questions about financial ties to oil executive Majid Mojibi, with whom he was involved in real estate deals, Rubio disclosed an additional partnership funded by Mojibi, who is president of San Joaquin Refining Co.
Rubio reported forming the partnership, M&R Investment Group, on Sept. 11, 2012, for the purpose of owning and operating property. Mojibi provided loans of at least $200,000 to allow the partnership to buy agricultural land and a building in Bakersfield, according to the disclosures. Rubio says in his report that he received no income from the new partnership last year.
As the former chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the Legislature's effort to make the state's environmental laws more business-friendly and had introduced legislation that would have helped the oil industry.
California's ethics watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, is reviewing Rubio's finances to determine whether an investigation is warranted into possible conflicts of interest. An attorney for Rubio did not return calls for comment.