Commentary: Lobbyists' gifts to officials' families must be reported

If someone gives a California state official a $1,000 gift, the official is legally obligated to report it. If the same gift is given to the official's spouse or children, the reporting obligation vanishes.

The loophole this leaves for someone trying to influence legislation, or policy, is obvious. And the California Fair Political Practices Commission is moving to close it by making officials' relatives follow the same rules on gifts as the officials themselves.

As a story in Tuesday's Bee reported, those rules are rather strict for folks who actually shape state policy. Public officials have to report all gifts worth $50 or more. And in the course of a year, they can't accept more than $420 worth of gifts from one source.

Their kinfolk aren't similarly hindered. As a result, they have been able to enjoy some good times, paid for by people who are trying to influence relatives' decisions. The Bee found that lobbyists reported giving $34,000 in gifts to the relatives of state officials over 18 months ending in June 2009. The largesse included tickets to an ice show, seats to NBA games and luxury stays in Pebble Beach.

By Capitol lobbying standards, $34,000 is hardly jaw-dropping. But the only reason those gifts are public is that lobbyists are legally obligated to report them. However, that leaves another loophole.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.