State Capitol

Lawmakers at the State Capitol reported a big haul of gifts last year. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Patrick McGreevy and Liam Dillon
March 2, 2016

State legislators accepted more than $892,000 in gifts last year, including foreign trips, expensive dinners, concert and sports tickets, golf games, spa treatments, Disneyland admissions and bottles of tequila and wine, according to filings released Wednesday.

Lawmakers had their expenses covered by others for educational and trade trips to France, China, Argentina, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico and Israel.

In fact, travel costs dominate the gift tallies from last year with a large number of lawmakers deciding to fly overseas for conferences or policy meetings paid for entirely by influential interest groups and foundations.

The travel included 21 lawmakers who attended a conference in Maui in November at a cost of about $3,000 per person, paid for by a nonprofit group funded by oil and tobacco firms and other interests lobbying the Legislature.

The flood of gifts, especially from groups tied to interests seeking favorable treatment at the Capitol, raises red flags for ethics experts including Bob Stern, former general counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission and a co-author of the state Political Reform Act.

“The people that make these gifts are trying to influence legislators and create goodwill, and clearly it does,” Stern said. “The average citizen doesn’t get these gifts. It’s only when you are in a position of power that you get these gifts.”

The total value of gifts is up by about $50,000 from 2014. A group with interest in promoting climate change policy helped send a large delegation of legislators led by Gov. Jerry Brown to a United Nations summit on climate change held in Paris in December.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) had $4,077 of his travel expenses to Paris covered by the Climate Action Reserve, which advocates for solutions to climate change.

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