State Sen. Rod Wright has agreed to pay a state fine for failing to disclose a $13,045 expenditure by a Wisconsin-based nonprofit group to fly him overseas as part of an academic program that awarded him a master's degree last year.
The Inglewood Democrat has agreed to pay $200 in connection with a 2009 trip to Rwanda bankrolled by the Legislative Leadership Institute, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The FPPC is expected to vote Thursday on whether to accept the settlement. Gary Winuk, chief enforcement officer, declined comment pending a final vote.
Wright said it still is not clear to him that the $13,045 expenditure is required to be reported because the group is not from California and the trip was part of an educational fellowship not tied to politics.
Unlike 2009, Wright said, the leadership institute sent him details of its spending on his behalf in 2010 and 2011, so he added that information to his annual financial disclosure statements because "better too much information than too little."
Wright said he agreed to the FPPC settlement because it made little sense to spend thousands for an attorney to contest a $200 fine.
"There was no dishonesty," he said.
The FPPC began looking into Wright's financial disclosure statements after reading in The Bee about the senator's participation in a multiyear program that awarded him a graduate degree in international relations.
Wright had reported contributions totaling $29,722 from the Legislative Leadership Institute from 2010 and 2011. He traveled to Switzerland and Ireland at the group's expense in 2010, but no location was cited for 2011.
The Bee, in a June 23 story, noted that Wright's 2009 disclosure statement did not list Rwanda as a place visited but that a Rwandan newspaper had quoted Wright and photographed him with the master's class in that African country in December 2009.
The $13,045 that Wright now concedes was spent by the leadership institute for his studies in Rwanda raises the group's total contribution to the senator to $42,767 over a three-year period.
California legislators generally are barred from receiving gifts totaling more than $420 from a single source per year. But unlimited sums can be spent on gifts of travel for a legislative or governmental purpose that are provided by an educational institution.
The Legislative Leadership Institute teamed with an Irish university to award master's degrees in October 2011 to Wright and 13 other students, including a Democrat serving on the Detroit City Council and two Republicans who were state senators at the time -- in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
Participants included the institute's leader and a member of its lobbying firm, BGR Group, founded by former Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.
BGR Group, in a federal disclosure statement, said that the leadership institute formerly was named Taxpayers Network Inc., whose website said its goal is to generate policy discussions about taxation, education, Social Security, retirement programs, government expenditures and other issues.
Wright said the educational program never attempted to lobby him or influence his actions as a state lawmaker.