Responding to legal and political pressure to reveal the staff budgets of individual members of the Assembly and state Senate, Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) unleashed an avalanche of financial information Friday evening that the Legislature had never previously made public.
Though the documents released do not appear to contain actual budget amounts, so there does not appear to be a way to use them to gauge actual percent-of-budget expenditures, at least one observer called the action a positive step for California voters.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) called for the financial disclosure after leaders of his own party slashed his budget in June and ordered temporary layoffs in October for his entire Sacramento and Pasadena office staff. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers filed suit to force disclosure of the financial data.
The spreadsheet documents released Friday show Portantino spending $297,579.99 in individual allowance money — more than any other member. The spreadsheets provide information separately about the funds allotted to lawmakers who serve as committee chairs.
“The information released by the Assembly today is misleading,” Portantino said. “It’s a continuation of the games, gimmicks and cooked books that insult the taxpayers of California. I would like to see budgets released in the actual format that they’re given to the members — the real budgets.”
John Vigna, press secretary for Pérez, brushed off the criticism.
“The fact is that we have released every penny spent by the Assembly for last year and this year up to July,” Vigna said. “Mr. Portantino has been grandstanding throughout this whole event, and now he’s acting like Donald Trump acted when the president’s birth certificate got released.”
On Friday the Assembly released on its website member expenditures for last year’s legislative session, as well as for the first eight months of this session, from Dec. 1 to July 31.
Assembly members spend funds listed as member expenditures, and also spend funds attributed to their committees and leadership roles. Portantino contends that this separation is misleading.
As chair of the Assembly’s Select Committee on the Preservation of California’s Entertainment Industry, Portantino spent an additional sum of approximately $165,000, records for this session show.
Pérez, whose individual member spending was just under $226,000, spent an additional $373,000 in connection with his leadership duties.
Regardless of who spent what, the release of the documents represents a victory for voters, according to Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics.
“The most important thing here isn’t whether John Pérez or Anthony Portantino thinks they spent more or less than the other guy. The important thing is that the information is available and voters can now make that decision for themselves,” Schnur said.
“Both sides will attempt to spin the numbers to benefit their own argument,” he continued, ”but voters can decide for themselves now who to believe. If a voter decides committee expenditures are relevant you’ll come to one conclusion; if not, you’ll come to another. Either way, we have the information to make a decision, and that’s seminal leap forward.”
The lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee demands release of the financial data, but also release of any emails and other documents that address changes to member and committee budgets.