Speaking Fees and Gifts Add to Legislators' Income

Staff Writer

Six state legislators representing the South Bay received about $55,000 in gifts and speaking fees last year--a 15% increase over the outside income they collected in 1985, but still a modest total when compared to the amounts reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission by lawmakers in other parts of the state.

The leading local recipients are Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood), who reported $8,484 in gifts and $7,700 in honorariums, and Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach), who collected $2,057 in gifts and $13,850 for speaking engagements. At the bottom of the list, Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena) reported a mere $559 in gifts, mostly free tickets and parking passes, and a $750 honorarium for participating in a cable TV show.

Although legislators generally said their outside activities are helpful in their work--giving them, for example, the opportunity to exchange views with experts on various subjects--most also acknowledged that they needed the money.

"I don't have any other income, so I live from paycheck to paycheck," said Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), noting that he welcomed the $9,810 in speaking fees he received last year in addition to his state salary.

Second lowest on the list--the statement of economic interests, required by the Political Reform Act of 1974--was Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro). He reported $2,076 in gifts last year, including $1,352 for tickets and transportation to the Academy Awards, and $500 for addressing a meeting of the Society for Clinical Social Work. A year earlier, he made no paid speeches and reported gifts of dinners and flowers valued at $711.

Floyd, who said he accepted no gifts last year, reported $12,500 for speeches and $3,147 in gifts in 1985--for a trip to Jamaica for a seminar sponsored by the California Trial Lawyers Assn., and a fishing trip.

Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) collected $1,000 in honorariums and $7,708 in gifts last year, mostly for a London trip in March underwritten by the Assn. of California Insurance Companies. Beverly, who is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee, said he and other legislators went made the trip to talk with Lloyds of London officials about the firm's policy of restricting insurance coverage in California.

In 1985, Beverly's $9,902 in gifts were largely for a visit to Saudi Arabia as a guest of that country and the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, and a journey to China sponsored by various Chinese groups and individuals with business interests in the United States. He was one of several lawmakers invited on the trips.

'Trips Are Educational'

"I take the position that these trips are educational," said Beverly, who was elected to the Senate in 1976 after nine years as an assemblyman. "They give us a chance to sell our state and its products while we gather information about other countries where California firms do business."

Statewide, legislators on the high side of the ledger included Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier), who received more than $47,000 for speeches and $10,000 in gifts, making his outside income greater than that of all the South Bay's representatives combined. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) took in $124,000 in gifts and honorariums.

Brown has proposed a ban on outside income as part of a plan to raise the salaries of legislators to $85,000 a year, but opponents say he is grandstanding because there appears to be little chance of the voters changing the state's Constitution to allow higher pay for legislators, who now receive $37,105 a year in salary, plus a tax-free allowance of $75 a day while the Legislature is in session.

Some legislators say they cannot meet expenses, including the cost of maintaining residences both in Sacramento and in their districts, without taking fees for speeches or having other outside income.

'Nobody Drafted Us'

Beverly, who has independent income from real estate and other investments, said he sympathizes with his less-affluent colleagues who must live on their legislative pay. "But, after all, nobody drafted us," he said. "We all knew the situation before we ran for office."

Floyd agreed that, despite the pay, "there's never a dearth of candidates" for public office. Many legislators work as lawyers or have other business interests, but Floyd does not.

"But you can be damn certain that if they cut my salary in half, I'd still be here. I love what I'm doing," he said.

Although a salary increase would be welcome, Floyd said, more pay would not eliminate potential conflicts of interest or "make us better or worse people. It's not the gifts that make the difference. It's the deals going on."

'I'm Not for Sale'

Tucker, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, said he can accept gifts and honorariums without being improperly influenced because everybody knows that "I'm not for sale." When a bill comes before his committee, he said, both sides can offer gifts and extend speaking invitations "as long as they never remind me of their generosity. If they do, then I will offer them their money back and vote against their interests if I possibly can.

"I've done it," he said, without elaborating.

Tucker's reports for the last two years indicate that he travels frequently in this country to attend health-care related seminars and conventions with his expenses and speaking fees paid largely by pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical groups.

Last August, the California Medical Political Action Committee spent $2,678 for Tucker's hotel accommodations and a reception in Anaheim and, several days later, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals paid $1,400 for limousine service and lodging. Near the end of that month, National Medical Enterprises of Los Angeles footed the $3,082 bill for a limousine to take Tucker on a tour of medical facilities in Louisiana. The firm paid $1,908 for Tucker's air travels in 1985.

Enjoys Public Speaking

Elder said he enjoys a legislator's round of speaking engagements, which brought him nearly $27,000 over the past two years. "I make myself available because I like public speaking," he said. "I always wanted to be a radio announcer."

The events give him a chance to try out his ideas and hear the views of others, he said, particularly in such areas of his legislative expertise as health care, retirement systems and pipeline safety. Elder, who is chairman of the Assembly Public Exployees Retirement and Social Security Committee, said the engagements also expand his range of contacts with people who may contribute later to his election campaigns, he said.

Like those of most other South Bay legislators, the amount of Elder's speaking fees varied, ranging from $200 to $2,000. The highest fee was reported by Floyd, who received $2,500 for a speech to the California Motorcycle Assn. of San Bernardino in 1985 and the same amount at a function where Atlantic Richfield Co. paid the honorarium.

Elder, who said he makes many free speeches in his district, has no formula for setting fees. He said the amount depends mostly on the group and how much it can afford.

As for potential conflicts of interest, Elder said, "The point is that you aren't going to be invited unless you already have a substantial affinity to the group's point of view. Nobody's mind is going to be changed in that kind of setting."

The largest gift in Elder's relatively small total over the past two years was a membership valued at $1,070, in the Capital Athletic Club. The membership, which he said he has used only once, is offered to all legislators.

Besides endless dinners and receptions, the most common freebies for legislators are tickets to sporting events. In 1985, Dills, like most other Southland legislators, received season football tickets from UCLA. His were worth $60. He explained the relatively low value of the tickets on his report with the notation, "end zone."

The next year, the senator noted without comment that the value of his UCLA football tickets had jumped to $201.

On the more exotic side, Dills reported that among his meager list of gifts in 1985 was a "sculpture of horse's head," valued at $150 and presented to him by the Los Angeles Turf Club. A year earlier, he received a silver wine bucket ($123) from the California Assn. of Winegrape Growers.

GIFTS TO LEGISLATORS

South Bay legislators received more than $54,000 in gifts and honoraria in 1986, according to reports required for gifts worth more than $50.

Dave Elder, Assemblyman (D-Long Beach) Gifts $2,057 Honoraria 13,850 Total 15,907

Gerald N. Felando, Assemblyman (R-San Pedro) Gifts $2,076 Honoraria 500 Total 2,576

Richard E. Floyd, Assemblyman (D-Hawthorne) Gifts $0 Honoraria 9,810 Total 9,810

Curtis R. Tucker, Assemblyman (D-Inglewood) Gifts $8,484 Honoraria 7,700 Total 16,184

Robert G. Beverly, State Senator (R-Manhattan Beach) Gifts $7,708 Honoraria 1,000 Total 8,708

Ralph C. Dills, State Senator (D-Gardena) Gifts $559 Honoraria 750 Total 1,309

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
70°