California Senate approves ban on many gifts to officials

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) is proposing a ban on gifts from lobbyists and barring elected officials from accepting gifts of professional sports and concert tickets.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

California officials would have to say “no” if offered free tickets to a Beyoncé concert, Dodgers game or Disneyland, under new gift rules approved Monday by the state Senate.

The new rules, which were sent Monday to the Assembly for consideration, would also mean no more free golf games at Pebble Beach, ski trips to Mammoth Mountain or spa treatments in Carmel.

The restrictions, which would also ban gifts from lobbyists and reduce from $440 to $200 the maximum value of other gifts that may be accepted, were drafted by a special Senate Ethics Working Group set up in response to a series of scandals in the state Senate.


“The gift ban targets gifts that lack a legislative purpose or justification,” said Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), an author of the bill. “We believe that the common sense proposals we are bringing forth are needed to bolster the public’s confidence in California’s elected officials.”

In the end, the Senate voted 34-0 to approve SB 1443, with all Republicans who voted supporting the bill. The bill is one of a package of ethics reforms proposed in response to scandals that include criminal charges filed against Democratic Sens. Roderick Wright, Ronald Calderon and Leland Yee, who have since been placed on paid suspensions. Yee and Calderon are charged with accepting payments for official favors.

Those scandals led to concerns that the significant amount of gifts provided to elected officials by special interests might be tainting the legislative process. “It is very important that we take this action to help ensure that our Democratic process remains free from outside influence,” said Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) another member of the Ethics Working Group.

Meanwhile, the Senate also approved a bill that would prohibit the state from cooperating with federal collection of phone and Internet records unless there is a warrant or judicial action. Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced SB 828 in response to controversy over the National Security Agency’s secret collection of records on U.S. citizens.

“The NSA’s sweeping seizure of California’s data is unreasonable seizure under the 4th amendment,” Lieu told his colleagues before the 29-1 vote to approve the measure and send it to the Assembly.

Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) cast the lone vote against the bill, saying he did not want to stop state and federal authorities from working together to stop terrorism. “This bill prohibits cooperation, which is very important,” Wyland said.