Politics & Government

California oversight group may clamp down on gifts to public officials' families

Free tickets to ball games, spa visits or other treats for California officials' spouses or children should be reported and counted toward annual gift limits, according to a new recommendation by staff at the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

"What we're looking at is the attempt to influence" state legislators, their aides and certain other local and state officials in California, Roman Porter, executive director of the commission, said Monday.

The commission meets next week and could vote to adopt the recommendation. It includes an exception if spouses or children – under 18 or up to age 23 if in school – show they have an "independent relationship" with the gift-giver.

The recommendation stems from concerns about "the uses and abuses of gifts," Porter said. It also stems from a staff review of the ethics of a retired Orange County Superior Court judge donating $25,000 in college tuition to the son of a local government employee and a court commissioner.

Currently, legislators and officials who have the power to influence local or state policies must report gifts worth $50 or more.

The regulations apply to officials who, as a check against conflicts of interest, must submit forms to the commission detailing their economic assets.

In a year's time, officials are limited to accepting no more than $420 worth of gifts from a single source.

But lobbyists have a pattern of also giving gifts, including high-priced sports tickets and luxury outings, to officials' spouses and children.

Lobbyists have to report the expenditures, but officials don't.

The Bee reported in September that during an 18-month period between January 2008 and June 2009, lobbyists reported $34,000 in gifts to officials' family members.

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