California Lawmakers Agree To Pay Fines Over Gift Disclosure

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Thirty-one California lawmakers have reached tentative agreement with the state’s political watchdog agency to pay $9,400 in fines for failing to disclose gifts from interest groups.

Sacramento Kings tickets, golfing fees, hotel accommodations, restaurant tabs, and concert tickets to see comedian George Lopez and country singers George Strait and Keith Urban were among nearly $5,400 in unreported gifts.

The Fair Political Practices Commission will decide Feb. 11 whether to accept the fines agreed upon by 22 Assembly members, nine senators and the commission’s executive staff for 46 reporting violations involving nearly $5,400 in gifts.
Legislative leaders who have agreed to pay fines are Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, $600; Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach, $600; and incoming Senate GOP leader Robert Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, $200.

Roman Porter, FPPC executive director, declined Monday to comment on the case, which stemmed from discrepancies in gifts that lawmakers reported receiving and those that interest groups reported giving in 2008.

Four of the proposed fines are for $600, eight are for $400, and 19 are for $200, FPPC records show.

Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit political group, applauded the FPPC for taking action but characterized the size of the fines as little more than a slap on the wrist to lawmakers who can easily pay from campaign coffers.

"Every single one of these politicians has a lawyer making sure they don’t mess these things up, so the fact that the problem was so rampant tells me that it deserves more attention than just a $200 fine," Heller said.

Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Whittier, agreed to pay a $600 fine for violations totaling more than any other legislator – $300 in concert tickets from Verizon, $250 in golfing fees from the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, and $190 in meals from Medtronic Inc.

Rocky Rushing, Calderon’s chief of staff, said the errors resulted from a failure by interest groups to provide notification. Calderon was able to successfully contest several other discrepancies, including $1,077 in gifts to the senator’s wife that were not required to be disclosed in 2008, Rushing said.

Lawmakers were barred in 2008 from accepting gifts exceeding $390 from a single source. The limit has risen to $420.

Besides the 31 legislators identified Monday by the FPPC, 11 legislative staffers also have agreed to pay fines totaling $2,400 for failing to disclose gifts, records show.

Last month, the FPPC sent discrepancy notices to 38 legislators and 15 staff members. Porter declined to discuss specifics but said the smaller totals released Monday suggest that some disputes were resolved amicably or that no agreement has been reached on fines.

Sacramento-area legislators who have agreed to pay fines are Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, $400; Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, $400; and Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley, $200.

Cox, Wolk and Aanestad all cited some type of clerical error – such as a document incorrectly dated 2009 rather than 2008, or failure by an interest group to notify them of a gift – as their explanation for violating disclosure requirements.

Spokesmen for Bass, Dutton and Garrick cited similar typing, filing or notification errors.

The gift-reporting discrepancies cited by the FPPC represent only a tiny slice of the meal, beverage, ticket and other gifts received by lawmakers each year from interest groups.

Over an 18-month period ending last June – six months longer than the focus of the FPPC probe – legislators received 4,635 gifts totaling $256,789, excluding travel, from groups that employ lobbyists, state records show.

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Consumer Watchdog
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