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Villaraigosa accepts free ticket to Lakers-Celtics game, says it is not a gift under law

June 3, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Antonio Villaraigosa, Jeffrey KatzenbergLos Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he has accepted a free ticket to Thursday night's Lakers-Celtics championship playoff game because the city’s top official has the right to “root for the home team.” He said he intends to meet with NBA Commissioner David Stern, so the event constitutes official business that doesn’t require him to treat the tickets as “gifts” that would have to be reported under law.

"I am going to the Lakers game tonight," Villaraigosa said. "And I've made it very clear, as I understand the rules and regulations, it is not a reportable gift when I am in an official capacity. I will be going tonight in an official capacity."

The mayor also said that if the city Ethics Commission sees anything improper in his having accepted free passes to as many as 81 other sporting, concert and awards-show events since becoming mayor in 2005, he would reimburse the ticket donors.

"If the commission, after reviewing those documents, determines that there are any that are not sustainable then I will certainly reimburse."

The Times reported last week that since taking office in 2005, Villaraigosa has sat courtside next to movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg at three Lakers games at Staples Center. He has cheered alongside Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt in the owner's box at Dodger Stadium. He has also attended the Academy Awards, the Grammys, the Emmys and the BET Awards.

Villaraigosa acknowledged this week that he goes to some of them free of charge. He said he considers those appearances to be part of his official duty to promote and represent Los Angeles.

State and city laws require politicians to report gifts they receive — and say who gave them — and limit the value of tickets they can accept up to $420 from any one source in a year. Elected officials are exempt from those requirements, however, if they conduct official business or have a "ceremonial" role at an event.

Villaraigosa has taken a more expansive view of that exception than his predecessor: Former Mayor James K. Hahn publicly reported tickets he received to similar sporting events and award shows, including the Academy Awards, the Grammys, a Rose Bowl game, Dodgers and Angels games, a Lakers game and a UCLA- USC football game.

When Hahn went to the 2003 Oscars, he paid $400 out of his own pocket and declared only a portion of the total ticket value — $100 — as a gift, his financial disclosure reports show.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said last week he's in "full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations." At some events, the mayor's official duties include the presentation of a decorative city proclamation that he presents to athletes, entertainers or organizers.

-- Phil Willon at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks with producer Jeffrey Katzenberg at a Lakers playoff game. (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press / May 2, 2010)

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