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Ethics agency OKs controversial rules on gifts for office holders

December 8, 2011 |  2:49 pm

With the gift-giving season arriving, the state’s ethics agency acted Thursday to make it easier to figure out what a lobbyist or government contractor can give to that special legislator or mayor on their list.

But some open-government advocates complained that the new rules go too far in allowing lobbyists and others to provide gifts, without reporting them, as long as they are in a dating relationship with the public official, or hosting the politician in their home. The new rules also allow public officials to avoid gift limits if they attend an event to perform their "ceremonial role."

The Fair Political Practices Commission approved the new rules, with Commissioner Ronald D. Rotunda voting against some of the changes. Rotunda said he thinks of home hospitality as a hamburger at a friend’s house, but the new rules could allow someone to host a lawmaker at a Lake Tahoe cabin for days. "That could be worth thousands of dollars," Rotunda said.

Rotunda had particular concerns about the dating rules, objecting to a position taken by the commission's general counsel, Zackery P. Morazzini, in a memo to the panel.

"To the extent that legislator/lobbyist dating is a problem, real or perceived, staff defers to the legislature to police its own house," Morazzini wrote.

"I find that mind-boggling," Rotunda said in response. He noted that the commission was created by the voters because they "did not trust the Legislature. Had they policed their own house, we wouldn’t be here." The new rules take effect Jan. 1.

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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