A bill designed to prevent lobbyists from influencing lawmakers by giving them tickets to events and theme parks died last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after the state ethics agency opposed the bill based on budgetary concerns. California Watch reporter Will Evans' report on SB 1426 found that some of the state senators who voted to ban such gifts continued to accept them.
Indeed, the state ethics agency opposed the bill because it wouldn't pay for the costs to implement the new regulations. The Fair Political Practices Commission estimated that the rule changes would cost $200,000 to revise rule manuals, field questions and complaints, and conduct investigations, according to spokeswoman Tara Stock. Under current rules, gifts are capped at $420 per year from any one source.
But there's a simpler reason for why legislators buried the bill, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California: "They like getting gifts."
"Just when you think that it's impossible to overstate the political tone deafness of the California state Legislature, they find a way to prove you wrong," he said.
The California secretary of state's office keeps tabs on which lobbyists give out gifts like tickets, and lawmakers are required to report gifts they receive to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Both agencies offer easily searchable databases of these filings on their websites.
Cal-Access – part of Secretary of State Debra Bowen's website – provides financial information to the public about candidates, donors and lobbyists. You can search specific companies and see which politicians are being given gifts and the monetary value of these tokens; lawmakers are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $420.
Click here for a list of organizations that employ lobbyists to represent their interests and see to whom they're giving gifts by selecting the “Financial Activity/Filing History” button and scrolling down to select a report from the “Electronic Filings” list. Gifts are listed under “Activity Expenses” in section C.
Form 700s are another way the state tracks investments, property, income and gifts held by California's lawmakers, to prevent conflicts of interest. Kept by the Fair Political Practices Commission, these reports come out annually and are easily searchable. Just plug in your legislator's name here, select a report and scroll through to Schedule D- Gifts.
You can see how your state senator voted on SB 1426 by clicking here.
Are your local lawmakers accepting gifts? Do you think tickets to Disney World or Lakers games can influence your politicians? Let us know in the comments below or by using the #BayBridges hashtag on Twitter.