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State ethics agency investigates 38 lawmakers over gift disclosures

January 15, 2010 |  5:05 pm

The state's ethics agency has notified 38 California lawmakers and 15 staffers that it is investigating whether they failed to report thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbying groups including tickets to concerts, sporting events and spas in 2008.

"We sent them letters stating that we are investigating the possible failure to report gifts,'' said Roman Porter, executive director of the state Fair Political Practices Commission. "It's an ongoing investigation and we've not yet made a determination whether there is a violation.'' A violation of the gift-reporting rules could mean a fine of up to $5,000.

The letters, some of which went out this week, had lawmakers including Assembly Speaker Karen Bass scrambling to amend public disclosure forms to report the gifts. In response to letters, Bass reported meals totaling about $200 paid for by Chevron Corp., AT&T and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Temecula, while Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) disclosed getting George Strait concert tickets from Pechanga.

"These were administrative bookkeeping errors,'' said Stephen Kaufman, an attorney for Bass. "Nonetheless the speaker takes full responsibility.''

A letter was also sent to Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) asking for an explanation as to why he did not report five gifts worth about $2,300 that he and his wife received, including nearly $1,400 from the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Cos. for expenses to attend a golf tournament in Pebble Beach.

Rocky Rushing, a spokesman for Calderon, said it does not appear that the $1,077 gifts to the senator's wife need to be reported because he did not control them, but the spokesman said the senator would file whatever disclosures are required with the FPPC, and that any omissions were a result of "technical errors.''

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento