Herb Wesson

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2013)

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson on Friday abandoned a plan to boost the size of gifts that lawmakers can accept from companies seeking city contracts, opting to leave the amount unchanged.

The council had instructed City Atty. Mike Feuer in October to draft an ordinance hiking the limit on gifts from those who do business with the city –- a group that includes bidders and city contractors -- to $150 per donor per year, up from $100. That idea had sparked criticism in recent weeks from some who monitor city ethics issues.

The council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee -- a panel headed by Wesson -- quietly reworked that plan Friday, recommending that the amount remain unchanged at $100.

The city's gift limit "continues to be one of the strictest limits in the nation," said Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson, hours after the meeting. "And most of the feedback we got from the public was to leave it where it was.”

The Ethics Commission recommended in August that the council reduce the size of limits on gifts to high-level officials from $100 to zero. That proposal did include some exceptions, including gifts that are considered “office courtesies,” such as coffee or bottles of water offered during a meeting.

The city's ethics law will continue to bar lobbyists from giving gifts to elected officials and other high-level decision makers. Those who do not have business before the city will continue to be permitted to give gifts to elected officials of up to $440 per year, as per the state limit,  Johnson said.

The committee's gift limit proposal, part of a larger overhaul of the city's ethics laws, still must be approved by the full council. Los Angeles resident George Rheault, who frequently tracks decisions by the Ethics Commission, said the council should bar gifts outright.

"You can do all kinds of things to acknowledge your gratitude to an elected official without giving them something concrete in their hands,” he said.

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