Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-San Pedro) paid the state $1,000 from his campaign treasury last December to cover the possibility that legislative telephones or staff were used for political purposes instead of legislative business.
The deliberate use of state offices, equipment and staff for campaign purposes is illegal in California.
A notation in Elder's most recent campaign finance statement filed at the end of January said the $1,000 was "payment to the state of California for any expenditures that may have been made by omission or by error."
The amount is five times greater than the $200 that Elder paid to the state for the same purpose in both 1986 and 1987, according to campaign records.
Bob Connelly, chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, which receives the payments, said quite a few legislators make payments to the state for "the inadvertent use of legislative facilities" for campaign purposes.
'$1,000 Would Be High'
Connelly would not discuss specifics about other lawmakers' payments to the state, but said most of the checks are between $500 and $1,000--"$1,000 would be high."
Elder said in an interview last week that he tries to keep his campaign activities "absolutely separate from the business of being a legislator."
But the veteran lawmaker said he spent more time on legislative campaigns last year than at any point since he was elected to the Assembly in 1978. He was overwhelmingly reelected last November in the solidly Democratic 57th Assembly District, which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and much of Long Beach.
Elder said 1988 was "an unusual campaign year" because he managed his own reelection effort and assisted in four other Assembly campaigns at the request of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
"I've tried to separate the campaign stuff. I do everything I can to make sure I don't have a problem," Elder said. "If we made a mistake, I'd like it covered."
Elder said the $1,000 payment was made to take care of that possibility.
The six-term lawmaker said he is not aware of his staff doing campaign work. "I'm not there all the time," he said. "I don't think anything political happens."
However, Elder said that he does make nor receive telephone calls at his state office where the conversation sometimes turns from legislation to a discussion of campaigns or fund-raising events. "You'll start out making a call about a bill and end up talking about an event," he said.
Another example of how state money can be spent for political purposes, Elder said, is when his state-paid secretary schedules a meeting for him with a campaign consultant and uses a state telephone to call and reconfirm the appointment.
'Minimal Amount of Money'
He said only "a minimal amount of (state) money" is involved.
Elder said Brown recommended that all Assembly Democrats pay $1,000 to the state from surplus campaign funds to cover any improper expenditures or use of state offices or staff.
The money is deposited in a contingency fund used to pay for Assembly operations.
Elder recalled Brown telling members of the Democratic caucus: "The way you solve the problem is send in a check."
"I think it's a good way to handle it," Elder said.
He noted that Controller Gray Davis, a former Assemblyman, had made similar payments to the state while in the Legislature.
Davis agreed in a civil settlement last October to pay the state $28,000 for improper use of legislative employees, telephones, offices and computer time on his controller's campaign.
Connelly said Davis' payment was "pretty extraordinary."
An investigation by Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp found that at least seven of Davis' legislative employees improperly worked on his 1986 election campaign on state time, using state facilities.
Van de Kamp concluded there was "insufficient evidence to justify the filing of criminal charges" against Davis because he could not prove that Davis knew his staff performed campaign work on state time.
The attorney general's office is investigating allegations that a South Bay legislator, Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) had a Capitol secretary type her doctoral dissertation on a state computer on state time. That inquiry is continuing, according to Assistant Atty. Gen. Eugene Hill.
Elder's alleged use of state-paid staff members to perform personal chores during work hours became an issue in his 1982 reelection campaign. At the time, Elder denied reports by former aides who said the assemblyman had required them to assist in moving, baby-sitting, doing odd jobs and attempting to untangle his family's financial records.
"Those allegations were not true then and they are not true now," Elder said.