Two months ago, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission called for new and stringent limits on gifts to the city's politicians, saying such niceties can undermine the public's confidence in government when they come from people doing business at City Hall.
The five-member panel sent the City Council its recommendation, part of a much larger package of rule changes, after 15 months of deliberations. But when lawmakers took up the proposal this week, they went the other direction — by seeking an increase, not a decrease, in the size of allowable gifts.
The council instructed the city's lawyers to draft an ordinance boosting the limit to $150 for each gift provided by bidders, contractors and others with a financial stake in a city decision, up from the current maximum of $100. Council President
"Times have changed and I think the $150 [limit] is appropriate," Wesson said. "There's nothing magical about it. It's just in this day and age I can't imagine any of our members would sell their souls for $150."
Wesson said the council will have another chance to review the gift rules when City Atty. Mike Feuer presents a final ordinance in coming weeks. Still, the proposal drew complaints from George Rheault, a frequent critic of the city's handling of ethics rules. Rheault said "nothing good" can come from allowing special interests to give more expensive presents at City Hall.
"The nicer the gift someone gives, the worse it is for the public," he said.
Gifts were a major political issue for former Mayor
The city's laws already bar gifts to lawmakers and other high-level officials from registered lobbyists and their firms. In August, the Ethics Commission decided to go further, endorsing an outright ban on gifts from those with a financial stake in city business. That move, said Ethics Commission President Paul Turner, was designed to "promote confidence in city decisions."
"If city officials cannot accept gifts from lobbyists, then they should not be able to accept gifts from other people who are attempting to influence the city," he said in an emailed statement to The Times.
The proposal sent to the council also offered an exception for "office courtesies," such as the distribution of free coffee or bottled water at meetings between elected officials and special interests.
When the proposal reached the council on Wednesday, Councilman
"That wasn't my suggestion," Koretz said, adding: "I just said, 'Make it more than zero.'"
In 2012, Koretz reported to the Ethics Commission that he received two $44 tickets to attend a holiday dinner thrown by a group that represents landlords. He also received $100 worth of free tickets to a Los Angeles Kings victory celebration from
With nine new elected officials taking office in July, many of the city's politicians have not yet had the opportunity to report any gifts at the local level.
In 2012, Councilman