Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) accepted $15,241 in gifts and speaking fees from special interests and political colleagues last year, including a $4,200 trip to Israel and $2,548 from the California Cable Television Assn., whose business she helps oversee.
Four other San Fernando Valley-area lawmakers took lesser amounts in gifts, such as expensive dinners, UCLA football tickets and a yacht club membership, according to their 1988 economic interests statements.
Such annual reports from state elected officials were due at the state Fair Political Practices Commission on Wednesday.
State Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) accepted $2,912 in gifts and $888 in travel reimbursements; Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), $2,691; Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge), $197, and Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Tarzana), $158. La Follette also received $1,200 in speaking fees. Statements from four other Valley-area lawmakers were not available by late Wednesday afternoon.
In interviews, Wright and La Follette acknowledged oversights in their reports, which they vowed to correct. Wright said she failed to report a complimentary ticket to a May 26 fund-raiser for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), while La Follette said she omitted about $1,800 for free commuter parking at Burbank Airport.
The practice of accepting gifts and speaking fees from special interests regulated by the state is commonplace in Sacramento but has come under increased scrutiny and criticism after last summer’s disclosure of a three-year FBI investigation of corruption in the Legislature.
Under Proposition 73, a campaign reform passed by voters in June, lawmakers will be limited to $1,000 in gifts and honorariums from a single source per year beginning this year.
Several lawmakers expressed misgivings about the honorariums Wednesday. Davis and Bane reported accepting no 1988 speaking fees; Hart said he gave his $1,500 in fees to charity, and La Follette called for a ban on such payments, although she took $1,200 from two groups.
“I think honoraria are extremely thinly disguised bribery,” said Davis, who instructs sponsors to give his speaking fees directly to charities. “It pulls down the people’s confidence in the integrity of their legislative bodies.”
‘Less Is Asked’
Hart said he was troubled by a trend among some organizations to ask less and less of legislators for honorariums in recent years. This may involve sitting on a panel, he said, rather than the more demanding task of preparing and delivering a speech.
Wright accepted $2,548 in honorariums from five organizations, including $1,750 for two appearances on California Cable Television Assn. round tables.
“Who buys a legislator for $1,000?” she asked. “If it’s $1,000, and they’re giving everyone else that, I’ll accept it.”
Wright, vice chairwoman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, also received assorted gifts from the Cable Television Assn. valued at $668. She said many members of the committee, which handles cable television-related legislation, “receive the same attention” from the association. But she maintained that the group has special reason to court her.
“I am the only legislator who has cable experience,” she said, citing her seven years working for a Simi Valley cable company before her 1980 election to the Assembly. “I understand the cable industry.”
Her largest gift was an educational two-week trip to Israel in November with a legislative contingent organized by Bane and his wife Marlene under the auspices of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. Wright reported that the council contributed $1,200, the California Teachers Assn. $1,000, and Van Nuys insurance executive Harry Miller $2,000 for her travel, lodging and meals.
Wright said she found it valuable to learn about Israeli agriculture. “They ran us ragged,” she recalled. “It is very, very interesting to see some of these countries.”
Davis, meanwhile, flew to Mexico City in March to explore the prospect of opening a state trade office there. His $1,261 travel bill was picked up by the California Assn. of Hospitals and Health.
He and his wife Bobbi also attended dinners sponsored Chevron and the Pacific Telesis Group at the Republican convention in New Orleans in August. The respective tabs were $282 and $208.
“It depends on who’s giving the gift and what the gift is,” Davis said, explaining his philosophy about accepting freebies. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to buy my vote. It’s a matter of drawing the line on individual cases.”