Ethics Board Proposes Travel, Meal Disclosures to Close Spending Loophole
Santa Monica, CA — Consumer advocates applauded the state ethics board for moving forward today with requirements that politicians justify their use of campaign funds for overseas travel, meals and other expenditures that benefit them personally. The nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) urged the panel to expand its proposed rules to require disclosure of information such as itineraries and trip participants so the public and regulators can be certain that candidate expenditures are legal.
The regulations proposed by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) follow revelations that Speaker of the Assembly Fabian NÃºÃ±ez used campaign funds to purchase items at luxury boutiques, stay at high-end hotels, stockpile fine wines and travel around the world. State law requires expenditures from candidate-controlled committees to have a legitimate political, legislative or governmental purpose, but the Speaker has refused to detail how his expenditures met those requirements. The Los Angeles Times revealed today that the state Democratic Party paid Speaker NÃºÃ±ez’s campaign for thousands of dollars worth of French wine purchased with the Speaker’s campaign funds shortly after the expenditures were questioned publicly.
“The extravagance of purchases by Assembly Speaker NÃºÃ±ez, and the mystery surrounding them, is all the proof the Commission needs that current disclosures are inadequate and tougher rules are needed to ensure politicians aren’t using campaign funds for personal gain,” said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate at FTCR.
Congress recently enacted strict rules on travel disclosure that can be used as a model in California, said FTCR in a letter sent to FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson and the Commission yesterday.
The FPPC has proposed amending existing disclosure regulations to make the purpose of expenditures on gifts, meals and out-of-state travel more clear. FTCR supports the regulations, but argues that stronger rules are needed.
The commission should expand required disclosures regarding out-of-state travel to include a list of other trip participants, an explanation of how the participation of each serves the political, legislative or governmental purpose, and a detailed agenda of activities that took place on the trip including itineraries and meeting venues, said FTCR’s letter.
“The FPPC’s proposal is a good start to rein in questionable campaign expenditures, but commissioners should demand more detail to ensure no politician can hide extravagant and unjustifiable spending behind a curtain of technical compliance,” said Balber.
FTCR also noted that, although the Commission is considering expanding disclosure for out-of-state travel only, discussion should also encompass expenditures on in-state travel which also has potential for abuse.
“In the end, we believe that campaign funds should be limited to political uses, and that travel on the people’s business is correctly paid for by the state. Such a distinction would eliminate the possibility of undue influence by campaign contributors who can currently claim credit for sending candidates around the world. However, until such change is effected in statute, the disclosures within the Commission’s power to demand can be a strong deterrent to abuse,” concluded the letter.
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is California’s leading nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization.