Common Cause seeks new limits on gifts to California officials

SACRAMENTO -- Alarmed that elected state officials last year accepted more than $200,000 in gifts, California Common Cause on Thursday proposed to overhaul the laws to reduce the ability of special interests to seek favor by providing expensive meals, lodging and travel.

The nonprofit open-government group said in a 15-page analysis that gifts to elected officials last year included $41,000 for hotel and lodging, $30,000 for tickets to concerts and sporting events, and more than $100,000 in free meals.

In addition, the group’s report said elected state officials solicited $6.7 million last year in donations to their favorite charities and pet causes.

“At a time when federal investigators are looking for potential illegal actions by California legislators, this report shows that many legal activities raise suspicions about the influence of special interest in the state Capitol,” said Kathay Feng, executive director for California Common Cause.

The group’s recommendations include:

--Apply the $10-per-month limit on gifts from lobbyists to also include gifts from the lobbyists’ clients. Currently, clients can give up to $440 per year to public officials.

--Reduce the limit on gifts that can be accepted by state elected officials from $440 per source annually to $250.

--Adopt new conflict of interest rules prohibiting elected officials from soliciting contributions to charities controlled by a member of the official’s family.

--Require travel expenses covered by third parties to be disclosed within 30 days of the trip. Currently, several legislators travel to Hawaii each November for a conference sponsored by a nonprofit backed by special interests, but the expenses do not have to be reported until the following March.

--Prohibit travel payments from groups for activities considered substantially recreational.

“When gifts are exchanged, a feeling of gratitude is natural, but voters should be concerned how policymakers show their gratitude towards powerful interest groups,” said Phillip Ung, author of the report and a policy advocate for California Common Cause.


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