It's a Scandal

When state Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier) last ran for reelection to the Legislature in 1986, he was unopposed. Presumably that happened because he faithfully represented his San Gabriel Valley district in Sacramento. But we can't help but wonder if Montoya has devoted as much attention to his duties as he has to acquiring property in questionable real-estate deals.

An investigation by several Times reporters has determined that Montoya, who was first elected in 1972 while earning about $14,000 as a social worker, now owns 19 properties in various parts of the state with a total value estimated at almost $2 million. The Times' investigation also determined that Montoya rents out many of those properties using his office in the state Capitol, and his staff there. In addition, some of the properties were purchased with only a minimal down payment, and at least two of them were apparently handed over to Montoya as outright gifts. And it was determined that Montoya schedules legislative hearings in Palm Springs, at considerable expense to the state, because he owns property there.

The senator would not explain in detail how he was able to accumulate his small real-estate fortune on a legislative salary of only $37,105 per year. But if it can be shown that any of Montoya's rental business was done on state time, or while using state office equipment, both the senator and his aides could be charged with misuse of state funds. If any gifts to him went unreported, that could be a violation of state laws that regulate contributions to elected officials. The appropriate law-enforcement agencies--the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the state attorney general's office and the district attorney in Sacramento County--must investigate Montoya's business activities thoroughly.

Even if it turns out that Montoya and his aides have broken no laws, this latest scandal is further evidence that the practice of allowing state legislators to earn honorariums, and to pursue often-lucrative careers apart from their work for the state, has gotten totally out of hand.

Former aides to the senator told reporters that most of the properties were acquired using some of the money that Montoya has earned as honorariums for speeches and other public appearances--more than $218,500 since 1980, one of the highest amounts for any member of the Legislature.

It was not illegal for Montoya to earn that much money on the side, but it should be. For as long as it is allowed to happen, many citizens will be justified in suspecting that legislators are overly influenced by lobbyists and special-interest groups that use honorariums and other gifts to buy access, loyalty and maybe even votes.

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