Too many gifts

Given the budget crisis, California lawmakers have seen their pay fall in recent years. However, the value of gifts from lobbyists and special interest organizations has increased dramatically. Although this is legal, it demonstrates an obvious conflict of interest.

According to financial documents handed over to the California Commission on Political Practices, last year legislators received more than $750,000 in meals, travel and other gifts in comparison to $520,000 the year before. The law permits accepting gifts worth up to $420 in a calendar year from one source, although no dollar amount is set for travel organized by foreign governments or by non-profit groups if the intent has a legislative, policy or governmental focus.

That explains how every legislator -except three Republicans – accepted trips to Hawaii, Italy, Israel, Ireland, England, China, Mexico and Azerbaijan among others locations, as well as tickets to entertainment sites, sports events and concerts. For example, one legislator received tickets to see Lady Gaga, courtesy of BP Petroleum, as well as food and hotel accommodations totaling $1,840 from the prison guards union

For some unfathomable reason, politicians believe they can receive expensive perks from special interest groups without their opinions being influenced. We don’t believe that is the case; it is far more complex.

Gifts and invitations don’t only buy support for a cause but they also generally provide special access to the politician. What better way to convince a legislator than to invite him or her to an all- expense paid trip to Hawaii to hear the benefits of a measure that helps a particular industry?

Californians have a negative image of their legislators and they have reason to think this. The public sees a paralyzed legislature dominated by special interests.

We believe that the legislators should worry more about the appearance of conflict of interests instead of taking advantage of every opportunity to get free trips and tickets to concerts and sports events. They should be embarrassed to behave this way.