Gift ban advances in Legislature despite grumbling
State lawmakers on Tuesday gave lukewarm support to a measure that would cut off their access to free tickets to Lakers games, rock concerts and Disneyland from companies trying to influence their votes.
Legislation imposing the ban received a 4-0 vote to get out of the Senate’s elections committee but the panel's chair said it appears to be too restrictive and may need to be revised. Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said he is open to making changes to his bill before it reaches the Senate floor. Even then, he predicted it will face a tough fight to get the necessary two-thirds vote in the full Legislature to become law. Two previous bills to restrict lawmakers' gifts died in the Legislature in recent years.
Blakeslee said he introduced the latest measure because the Legislature’s reputation has been tarnished by news reports of some lawmakers accepting free tickets from companies seeking their favor.
"I think it brings disrepute to all of us," Blakeslee told the committee. He also cited $42,000 in fines recently levied against Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for accepting tickets to sports events, concerts and other entertainment without reporting them as gifts.
The state measure, SB 18, would prohibit lobbyists and their clients from providing legislators and their family members specific gifts including tickets to sporting events, plays, concerts, race tracks and amusement parks, as well as spa treatments, golf, skiing and fishing trips, and gift cards.
The Times reported in March that elected state officials accepted $637,000 in gifts last year, including choice tickets from AT&T to a Lakers game, a Giants World Series game, a Bon Jovi concert and a round of golf at Torrey Pines.
Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) withheld his vote from the bill Tuesday, saying legislators already have to disclose such gifts publicly and he thinks the voters can then decide whether the politicians are acting properly.
"If the voters themselves find it distasteful that their mayor or legislator is feeding at the trough, then I think they should vote their conscience," De Leon said.
Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), the committee chairman, voted for the bill even though he said he would like to see it revised to allow lawmakers to attend community events in their districts. He cited invitations to attend high school football games with tickets provided free by school districts that lobby the Legislature.
-- Patrick McGreevy
Photo: State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) in a hearing at the state Capitol earlier this year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press