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Chacon’s ‘Honorarium’ Wasn’t That, or Ethical

We thought that it would be tough to top the brazenness of the $10,000 that Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier (R-Encinitas) received in 1987 from a prison guards group as an award for leaving her sickbed to vote for legislation the group was supporting.

But Assemblyman Peter Chacon (D-San Diego) may have done it. Chacon last year accepted $4,000 from the California Check Cashers Assn. on the day he abandoned legislation that would have limited the fees that check-cashing businesses could charge. Three months later, he received $3,500 more from the trade group.

Chacon’s explanation? He was paid the money as an honorarium to compensate him for touring several check-cashing stores and meeting with the association’s board of directors.

There was no connection, he assures, between the money and his decision to drop the bill. The decision was made on the advice of the chairman of the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee, which voted to shelve the bill.

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The payment was not illegal if it was made after Chacon decided not to pursue the bill. And it was not covered by the Proposition 73 limits on such contributions, which didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1 of this year.

But, even if the payment was not illegal, it was hardly an honorarium--and hardly ethical.

Webster’s defines an honorarium as a payment, usually for services, for which custom or propriety forbids a price be set.

Propriety does forbid that a price be set for influencing legislation. Payments for influence are called bribes.

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But custom does set a price for researching legislation. It’s called a salary--and Chacon and other members of the Assembly are paid $40,816 a year and provided with staffs to research and introduce bills.

Chacon obviously learned a lot about cashing checks during his tour. Now he needs to learn a little about ethics.


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