Here's one way for lawmakers and their staff to avoid paying fines for failing to report gifts from interest groups: Have the political watchdog agency that administers those penalties post the lobbyists' lists of gifts before the politicos' disclosures are due.
Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, has scrapped a spot bill to amend the elections code this week and replaced it with legislation to do just that.
The idea was born of the Fair Political Practices Commission's recent decision to cross-check gifts reported by lawmakers with the gift reports filed by interest groups. Failure to properly report gifts can result in individual fines of up to $5,000 per violation.
The review, which found lawmakers failed to report 66 gifts worth a total of $8,500, resulted in more than $9,000 in fines for dozens of lawmakers. In several instances, legislators said they did not report a gift because they had not received notice from the givers as to its value.
"The FPPC shouldn't be in the business of gotcha politics," Adams said. "The idea is we're supposed to be as transparent with the public as possible."
The bill, AB 2007, would require that the FPPC post on or before Feb. 1 "information describing all gifts donated to Members of the Legislature and designated employees of the Legislature in the previous calendar year and reported to the Secretary of State by the donors of those gifts."
The quarterly reports that include lobbyists' gift disclosures are filed electronically with the secretary of state and are already accessible via the agency's Web site. Under the bill, the FPPC would be charged with gathering the records and posting the gift information so lawmakers and staff could see what gifts the lobbyists disclosed before they file their own reports, which are due March 1.
While the move could create an opening for not reporting gifts that the interest groups failed to identify, Adams said his goal is to cut down on "missed opportunities to be as open and transparent as possible." He cited cases in which lobbyists' reports included gifts or events the lawmakers never received or attended as well as others where lawmakers did not receive a required invoice detailing a gift's worth.
"The onus is on the member to keep accurate records of their gift but, as often happens, there are all kinds of things that are disputable," he said. "You don't find out (about the alleged missed report) until the FPPC sends you a notice of violation."
The quarterly disclosure reports for lobbyists are due Jan. 31, meaning the FPPC would have one day to scour the reports for the information in question and post it for the public. Adams said he is open to working with the FPPC to find a more realistic timeframe for posting the reports.
FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said that the commission voted earlier today to oppose the legislation. In addition to concerns over the timing of turning around the reports, Porter said the commission was concerned that the legislation did not identify a funding source for the additional duties.
Porter also said the change could undermine the "checks and balances" in the current reporting process and cautioned that a raw list of gifts reported by lobbyist employers would not necessarily cover all reportable gifts. He pointed to fines approved today for Bank of America and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, two groups that failed to notify legislators of the value of the gifts they received.
"Essentially, the issue is that it's incumbent upon the individual who's receiving the gift to keep track of that gift and to report it appropriately at the end of the year," he said.
Wondering what kind of tokens and trips are being exchanged? Click here to access the Bee's searchable database of gifts given to state leaders.