Shortly before Christmas, Assemblymen Ross Johnson and John Lewis joined a colleague and about half a dozen Louisiana-Pacific lumber company employees on a 4-day fishing trip in Northern California.
The group mixed business and pleasure, viewing the timberlands and discussing issues as they fished for steelhead trout on the Klamath and Trinity rivers near Eureka, Lewis said.
The fishing trip, which cost the company about $800 per person, was typical of scores of gratuities offered up by institutions and special interests and accepted by members of Orange County’s delegation in the Legislature during 1987 and 1988.
The gifts ranged in value from a $3.65 batch of cinnamon rolls to overseas tours worth thousands of dollars. If they wished, lawmakers could obtain free, preferred parking at area airports, visit Disneyland, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, attend college and professional football games, belong to yacht clubs, country clubs and athletic clubs, and even get their eyeglasses--all without paying a cent.
Orange County lawmakers also collect thousands of dollars in honorariums--fees for making speeches--most of which are paid by companies and trade associations seeking to influence the Legislature. Unlike campaign funds, which cannot be spent for personal purposes, speaking fees go directly into a lawmaker’s pocket.
For the Legislature, 1988 was the final year that members could accept unlimited gifts and fees for making speeches. Proposition 73, approved by the voters in June, now limits gifts and speech fees to $1,000 from each source each year.
But it is by no means clear that the new law will stem the flow of personal gifts to lawmakers. Most of the gifts that members receive are valued below the $1,000 threshold. More valuable gratuities are usually associated with travel, and those are still permitted without limit if a legislator maintains that the travel was a necessary part of a speaking engagement. Legislation now under consideration would place even stricter limits on personal gifts from people who are trying to influence the Legislature.
During 1987 and 1988, the 13 members of the Orange County legislative delegation collected gifts worth $116,339, according to their annual statements of economic interest filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission. Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) collected the most--$23,443. Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) reported the least--$358.83.
The most valuable gifts are the trips, which are offered at one time or another to virtually every member of the Legislature. Most of the excursions are sponsored and paid for by private companies interested in issues weighed by the Legislature.
Last Spring, Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) and his wife spent 5 days in Bermuda, courtesy of Pfizer Pharmaceutical Co. The firm invited Campbell as part of an annual program known as “The Portfolio of State Issues,” at which lawmakers from around the country gather with experts to discuss concerns at the state level.
At the time of the Bermuda trip, Pfizer was the sponsor of a bill pending in the Senate that would have protected Irvine-based Shiley Inc., a Pfizer subsidiary, from lawsuits filed over Shiley’s faulty heart valve. The bill was later dropped without a vote.
Campbell aide Jerry Haleva described the Bermuda session as a “valuable forum.” He said he didn’t remember if the Pfizer legislation was discussed.
“This is an annual thing they do,” Haleva said. “Any link between that and any legislation Pfizer had pending at the time is irrelevant.”
Louisiana-Pacific, a large lumber concern, had no specific legislation pending in the Legislature when the company invited Assemblymen Johnson (R-La Habra), Lewis (R-Orange) and Frank Hill (R-Whittier) to go fishing in Humboldt County in December. But Shepard Tucker, the company’s director of legislative affairs, said the firm wanted to show the lawmakers firsthand what the timber industry is all about.
The company flew the group to Eureka, put them up at a company-owned bed and breakfast inn, and arranged for guides and boats to take them fishing on two area rivers. One night, the group had dinner at the home of Louisiana-Pacific’s division manager.
“It’s very difficult to explain commercial forestry,” Tucker said. “Many urban legislators do not understand the scale of things we’re doing up here. . . . When we take them out fishing, we are able to talk to them about our company and the industry.”
Still, Johnson described the outing as little different from any other fishing trip, except that it was paid for by a lumber company.
“As we were drifting down the river in the drift boat, they talked about a variety of things relating to the timber industry,” he said. “But 99.9% of the conversations was about the river and about fishing. It was very relaxing.”
Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) is a frequent traveler who last year toured Egypt courtesy of the Egyptian government and went to New Zealand on a trip paid for by several oil and chemical companies. But she described her sojourns as anything but relaxing.
“These were good trips,” Bergeson said. “We really spent a lot of time finding out about issues that are relevant to things we are looking at in California.”
Even when a trip is sponsored by a foreign government, private interest groups from California can find their way onto the itinerary. On Bergeson’s visit to Egypt, she and the two senators with whom she traveled gave a dinner for the Egyptian officials who were hosting them. The Senate office of protocol arranged the dinner and solicited the California Retailers’ Assn. and the California Optometric Assn. to pay for it.
“They helped to offset some of the costs,” Bergeson said of the trade associations. “I don’t remember seeing any of them over there.”
Assemblywoman Allen, who has long had an interest in fishing and hunting issues, was given round-trip plane tickets to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California by South Coast Sportfishing Magazine, a monthly publication based in Santa Ana.
Kenneth Kukada, the magazine’s publisher, said he gave Allen the tickets, worth $652, “to say thank you” for her work on behalf of sportfishing. The magazine supports a bill Allen has introduced that would eliminate the use of gill nets by commercial fishermen.
“I know she’s worked hard and puts in a lot of time, and she has been very sensitive to some of the resource issues,” Kukada said. “This was our way of indicating to her that we appreciate her effort on some of those issues.”
Other gifts that lawmakers receive are more on the order of perks that come with holding elective office.
Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) reported receiving $600 worth of expanded cable television service during the 2-year period from Choice Television. Green said he began receiving the service when he was a Norwalk City Councilman, regulating the cable television franchise, so that he could see what his constituents were getting for their money.
Green said the service included the Playboy Channel, which he watched once or twice.
“It’s not my station of choice,” he said.
Several Orange County lawmakers have attended the Academy Awards in recent years, courtesy of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The organization provides transportation between Sacramento and Los Angeles, lodging at a Los Angeles hotel and limousine service to the awards, in addition to tickets. The entire package comes to more than $1,500.
Assemblyman Lewis, who attended with his fiancee last year, said the couple almost missed the glitzy event.
“The traffic jam going to the awards was ridiculous,” he said. “We almost got locked out.”
Many legislators also take advantage of free and preferred parking at area airports.
Sen. Green parks at Los Angeles International, where legislators use a special lot and are shuttled by van to their terminal. Assemblyman Johnson generally flies into Ontario Airport, and parks free in an employee lot.
Johnson, a business-oriented conservative, asked why he should get preferred parking when his constituents have to fight for a space, said he didn’t have an answer.
“It’s been offered, it’s an enormous convenience, and I’ve accepted it,” he said. “I don’t feel badly about it.”
Lewis reported $60 worth of free parking at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport in 1987 and again in 1988. Lewis said he parks in a special lot at the airport’s north end.
But Jan Mittermeier, the assistant airport manager, said in an interview that neither she nor the airport manager, George Rebella, knew of Lewis’ privileged parking spot. She said the free parking violates airport policy.
“If we did this for one member of the Assembly, they’d all want it,” she said. “We just don’t have the room. The public doesn’t even have enough room to park.”
Mittermeier promised to look into the matter. “He probably won’t find his pass any good next time he tries to use it,” she said.
Many legislators also receive free admission to Southern California tourist attractions, including Disneyland, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.
Last July, Sen. Bergeson wanted to take her family on an outing for the Independence Day holiday. So she arranged for five free tickets to the zoo on July 2, and the same number at Disneyland the next day. She said she took advantage of the free admission because it was offered.
“Nearly all the functions I attend with my family, a night at the Music Center, for instance, we pay for ourselves,” she said. “But, if there are invitations, and they’d like to extend it to you, it’s something that I think its acceptable under the circumstances.”
San Diego Zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said the park extends free admission to lawmakers as a way to help compete for their attention. The park is currently embroiled in a controversy over its treatment of elephants and receives state funds for its condor breeding program.
“We think they (legislators) might want to see what kind of facility their money is going for,” Jouett said. “This helps to make them aware of the endangered species issue. They have a lot of issues before them. We think endangered species deserve their attention as well.”
Assemblywoman Allen, the county’s top gift-getter, received some of the more unusual gratuities. Last year, she reported $15,500 in legal and accounting services from Lisa and Bruce Hughes of Santa Ana. She said the couple “wrote off” a large portion of what she owed them for work done on her divorce.
Allen also accepted a free pair of eyeglasses valued at $110 from the California Optometric Assn.
“They offer that all the time, through your optometrist,” Allen said. “This is the first year I’ve done it. I went ahead and allowed it because it was only $110.”
Other gifts received by lawmakers included tickets to Rams, UCLA and USC football games and the Super Bowl, passes to movie theaters, free car washes and complimentary memberships in the Balboa Bay Club and Balboa Yacht Club.
Even many of these gifts could be banned under a bill authored by Assemblyman Ted Lempert (D-San Mateo), who won an upset victory in November after basing his campaign on a theme of cleaning up corruption in the Legislature.
Since taking office, Lempert has introduced a package of legislation that would, among other things, ban gifts and honorariums valued at more than $50. Assemblyman Johnson has a measure that would set the limit at $250 from any source that uses a lobbyist in Sacramento.
“The public is frustrated with a lot of what goes on in Sacramento and the way the system is abused,” Lempert said in an interview. “It’s the abuses that need to be eliminated. But the only way we can deal with that now is a complete ban on gifts and honorariums.”
Yet lawmakers, almost without exception, say that even those gifts from private interests affected by bills in the Legislature do not influence their decisions.
Lewis said his fishing trip did not change his view on the timber industry at all.
“They know where I’m coming from,” he said. “I’ve always been a supporter of the timber industry, and I’m against excessive radical environmentalism. I’m sure they appreciate that. Everything is fully disclosed. I don’t think there’s a problem.”
Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad), who represents a portion of south Orange County, spent two free nights in a Palm Desert condominium owned by the Sunrise Co., a developer that was sponsoring legislation last year.
Frazee, who was in the area for a meeting of the Assembly Republican Caucus agricultural task force, said he supported the Sunrise bill “all along.” The measure, which was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian, would have allowed the city of Indian Wells to build most of its state-required low-income housing outside its borders.
Frazee said he subscribes to a philosophy first detailed by the late Jesse Unruh, one-time Assembly Speaker and later state treasurer.
“You should be able to take these kinds of things and not let it affect you,” Frazee said. “That’s the measure of a good legislator.”
Bergeson said she has never completely understood the fascination with which the press and public treat the annual reports on which lawmakers disclose the gifts they receive. Most of what she gets, Bergeson said, is trivial.
“I guess there’s just an insatiable interest in our private lives,” she said. “It’s so boring.”
GIFTS TO LAWMAKERS Orange County’s delegation in the state Legislature collected $116,339 worth of personal gifts during 1987 and 1988. Here is the total for each legislator:
Member Amount Senate Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) $21,148 William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) 11,800 Cecil Green (D-Norwalk) 5,857 Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) 2,117 John Seymour (R-Anaheim) 8,586
Member Amount Assembly Doris Allen (R-Cypress) $23,443 Dennis Brown (R-Los Alamitos) 8,339 Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) 8,293 Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad) 16,698 Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) 358 Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) 3,705 John Lewis (R-Orange) 4,403 Richard Longshore (R-Santa Ana) 1,585 (died June, 1988)
Source: Legislators’ statements of economic interests filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission.