The Fair Political Practices Commission continues to clamp down on loopholes in gift disclosure laws that have opened in years past under previous Commissions. This Thursday the ethics board meets to consider new rules to:
- Expose the flow of free tickets for concerts, banquets and sporting events to public officials and agencies
- Make a clear distinction between a ticket to fly Southwest and a hop in a Gulfstream IV
One of these rules targets a current regulation that exempts gifts to public officials from disclosure if they're tickets to nonprofit fundraisers. It's hard to understand how prior regulators thought free admission to a charity golf tournament, or the Rose Bowl game, wasn't a gift. But it has to do with a naiveté I've noticed about nonprofits: some people seem to think that there's no question of improper influence if a nonprofit organization is involved, no matter how much money is spent or what kind of benefit is exchanged. So, when a politician is given a $10,000 trip to Japan, no one has to worry about who's trying to curry favor, because a nonprofit bought the trip and they're above suspicion. Or, if a city council awards a $100,000 grant to a local redevelopment nonprofit, there's no reason to suspect undue influence on the council's decision just because a councilmember's spouse sits on the board. It's for charity!
The lines between nonprofits and politicians are becoming more and more blurred. the FPPC's new rule doesn't directly address this, but it acknowledges that "nonprofit" doesn't mean "no agenda".