From Daily Tax Report

By Laura Mahoney

Feb. 9 — A California State Board of Equalization member is backing a bill to tighten monetary contributions to—or at the request of—board members with the goal of ending perceived conflicts of interest at the only elected tax board in the country.

All contributions to members of the SBOE from individuals or companies with an interest in a tax appeal before the board, as well as contributions from them to outside organizations at the behest of a member, would be banned under a bill to be introduced Feb. 10.

SBOE member Fiona Ma (D), who is sponsoring the bill, and Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D), the bill’s author, both told Bloomberg BNA they are acting in response to a recent Bloomberg BNA examination of payments from companies with business before the board to nonprofit organizations tied to the wife of SBOE Chair Jerome Horton (D) at his request .

“It goes directly to the fact that they’re sitting as a judicial body, which is different from a legislative body,” Dodd told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 8. “Where such important decisions are being made for the financial future of the state, these are important standards to give the public the confidence they deserve in these decisions.”

Ma said board members should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Unlike Senators or Assemblymembers, the votes we make can have an immediate, sometimes multi-million dollar impact on businesses and taxpayers,” Ma told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. “BOE can’t be seen as a pay-to-play agency. We should not be putting ourselves in the position where our motivations for voting a certain way are questioned, and I think legislators and the governor will be very receptive to our argument.”

Unlike other elected officials, the five SBOE members both administer the state’s tax programs and adjudicate disputes between taxpayers and the state regarding those programs. They are free to accept campaign contributions from those taxpayers with some limits. Their dual roles as politicians and judges are at the heart of the bill.

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