A state watchdog agency is reviewing recently filed economic disclosure statements of Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Tarzana) and three colleagues who accompanied him on an educational trip to Israel in November, the agency’s chairman said Thursday.
John Larson, chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said the commission also will determine whether Bane failed to report transfers of funds from his campaign committee to a campaign committee for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
“I think we would be foolish not to inquire” about possible irregularities, Larson said. The commission can levy fines on elected officials for misreporting finances, but such a penalty is often waived if the financial statements are amended.
At issue is how the two-week trip to Israel, organized by Bane and his wife, Marlene, was financed. Among those who accompanied the Banes were Assemblywomen Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), Delaine Eastin (D-Union City) and Bev Hansen (R-Santa Rosa). All three reported that at least part of their trip was underwritten by the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.
But Ron Rieder, the federation’s director of public affairs, emphasized that “no funds from the Jewish Federation Council were used for this trip.”
Rieder said that expenses for 10 of the 17 people on the trip were raised privately by the Banes. The remaining seven paid their own way, he said. The federation booked flights and made other arrangements, he said, but the funds were merely passed through the group’s treasury.
“A sum of money was transmitted from Bane’s office to the federation, and that sum of money was used to pay for the trip,” said Rieder, who declined to disclose the amount raised by the Banes.
In an interview Thursday, Hansen said she was led by the Banes to believe that the trip was financed by the federation. She reported a $4,300 gift from the group on her annual statement of economic interests filed last week.
Hansen said that she does not understand why there would be a problem in the way she reported the trip, but added: “I don’t mind amending my report . . . . “
Wright and Eastin also reported gifts from the federation.
Wright reported on her economic interest statement that a portion of her trip was underwritten by the federation. Wright said the trip cost $4,200; she listed $1,200 from the federation for travel, meals and lodging on the trip, $1,000 more from the California Teachers Assn. and $2,000 from Harry Miller, a Van Nuys insurance executive.
An aide said Thursday that Wright has no plans to amend her economic interest statement.
Eastin listed the trip as a gift from the federation worth $4,300. She also reported that contributions were made to the trip by three other people, including insurance executive Miller. Eastin could not be reached for comment.
It was unclear how Bane financed his trip. He reported no contributions from the federation or from any other group or individual for travel costs. He declined to comment Thursday on the trip or the inquiry by the commission.
In an interview last month, Bane said the federation sponsored the trip. He said he has been organizing such trips for about 12 years for lawmakers.
“It’s not a political or legislative trip,” Bane said.
Wright described the purpose of the trip as educational. She said last month: “They ran us ragged. You really saw Israel. . . . It was no sit in the sun and enjoy yourself.”
Hansen echoed that view, saying the lawmakers visited historical sites, a winery, a day-care center, schools and a kibbutz where Marlene Bane’s daughter lives.
“There just cannot be a finer educational trip than the one the Banes put together to Israel. . . ,” Hansen said.
In addition to the financial reports on the Israel trip, FPPC Chairman Larson said his agency is checking into Bane’s campaign contribution statements after a story in the Los Angeles Daily News said the assemblyman did not report $13,000 in contributions to a Willie Brown campaign committee. Brown apparently reported the contributions on his statements.