Gift limits vetoed by Gov. Brown would have affected him little

Jerry Brown
Gov. Jerry Brown discusses a bill while meeting with advisors at his Capitol office in Sacramento on Sept. 29.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

In vetoing a bill restricting gifts to elected officials, Gov. Jerry Brown was acting on a measure that would have affected his own practice of accepting perks, but not by much.

Like most elected officials, the governor accepts gifts, but few of the kind and size that would have been prohibited by SB 1443.

The measure by Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) would have reduced the value of gifts that could be accepted by an elected official from a single source in a year from $440 to $200. It also would have banned gifts from lobbyists and lobbyist firms to the governor and legislators.

The bill would have barred officials from many kinds of gifts, including tickets to professional sports contests, entertainment events and amusement parks, as well as free golf games and entertainment.


Brown accepted gifts of dinners worth $2,293 and travel worth $9,419 last year, according to his annual financial filing with the state, but none of them from sources that would have been prohibited by the bill he vetoed.

The last time he received gifts that would have been addressed in the bill was in 2012, when he accepted a $150 ticket to a Lakers game from then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and $239 in tickets to the San Francisco Symphony from the musical group.

The symphony tickets were the only non-travel gift worth more than the $200 limit in the bill he vetoed. During his current term, Brown, 76, has not accepted free passes to Disneyland as many other state officials do each year.

Brown accepted more such gifts in the 1970s, during his first stint as governor. Back then, he reported taking tickets to National League baseball games, membership in the Lakeside Golf Club of Hollywood, membership in the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club, a gold pass to Disneyland and a free hang-gliding lesson.


In vetoing the gifts bill, Brown wrote that it would be “adding further complexity without commensurate benefit. Proper disclosure, as already provided by the law, should be sufficient to guard against undue influence.” He added that “some balance and common sense is required” in constraining the activities of politicians.

In his veto, Brown referred to an article written in 1964 by his former law professor that he said would bring “clarity” to the issue.

On Wednesday, De Leon was dismissive of the governor’s veto. “I’m happy to read an article recommended by the governor from 50 years ago, but the Political Reform Act should reflect today’s interests and values, and that includes not taking gifts from lobbyists,” De Leon said in a prepared statement.

The veto of the bill and eight other political ethics measures disappointed some of those pushing for stricter such laws. Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said the veto means “politics as usual.”

Robert Stern, a former Brown aide who has also been an advocate for stronger ethics laws, said he was also was disappointed.

“These bills, especially DeLeon’s bill on lobbyists, would have vaulted California into the leadership of state and federal lobbyist regulation, just as California was ahead of the rest of the states when Brown’s Political Reform Act of 1974 was passed by the voters,” Stern said.

Jodi Remke, the chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, was sympathetic to the governor’s actions.

Those decisions, she said, “highlight the need to focus on common-sense solutions that further the Political Reform Act’s goals without adding complexity.”


“We agree there is a need to proceed cautiously when tinkering with the Act and to emphasize smart disclosure that truly helps inform voters,” she said in a statement.

Staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.