Following a spate of ethical problems to hit the state Capitol in recent months -- including two senators taking leaves of absence to fight criminal charges, and two lobbying firms paying record-setting fines for violating lobbying laws -- California lawmakers are poised to introduce a package of bills to reform the way they do business.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, along with Senators Ricardo Lara and Kevin de Leon have called a press conference for Thursday to announce a package of bills they tout as "major upgrades to public service accountability rules and practices."
De Leon said the bills would include proposals to:
- Ban fundraisers at lobbyists' homes
- Ban all gifts from lobbyists - even those under $10 that are now currently allowed
- Lower from $440 to $200 the limit on the value of gifts officials can receive from a single source
Other sources said the package would also include proposals to:
- Prohibit officials from receiving as gifts tickets to concerts, sporting events and other types of entertainment
- Increase the frequency of campaign finance report filings
"I think it has the ability to restore the public's confidence and the public's trust," de Leon said of the bill package.
"It's the most far reaching, comprehensive (change to the) Political Reform Act in over two decades."
De Leon and Lara have together introduced four spot bills that call for changing California's Political Reform Act, which governs campaign finance laws, lobbying and other areas of political ethics.
Lara's SB 1441 says the Legislature intends to alter the limit on the value of gifts government officials may receive. His SB 1442 says the Legislature intends to alter campaign committee reporting schedules.
De Leon's SB 1443 and SB 1444 are even more vague but would, respectively, make changes to the Political Reform Act and review the responsibilities of the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Lara and de Leon are part of the Senate's "ethics working group," a band of Democrats who have been meeting behind closed doors to come up with political reform proposals. The group also includes Sens. Ellen Corbett, Jerry Hill, Bill Monning, Richard Roth and Norma Torres.
The proposals come weeks after nearly 40 state officials received warning letters from the Fair Political Practices Commission for having campaign fundraisers at the home of Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat. Sloat's lavish hospitality at the events -- including fine wines, top shelf liquors and expensive cigars -- amounted to prohibited campaign contributions because they exceeded the limits of how much lobbyists can give to officials whose votes they seek to influence.
The $133,500 fine Sloat paid last month set a new record in California as the highest fine paid for violating lobbying regulations. The previous record was set in September, when the California Strategies public affairs firm and three of its partners agreed to pay a $40,500 fine for working to sway government decisions without registering as lobbyists. One of those partners, Jason Kinney, is a political consultant to the Senate Democrats.
Two Senate Democrats are now on leaves of absence while they fight criminal charges. Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty of perjury in January for lying about where he lived. Sen. Ron Calderon was indicted by a federal grand jury last month on 24 counts of corruption. Both men contest the charges.
De Leon, who is in line to become the Senate President pro Tem later this year, said the bills would heal some bruises the body has taken in recent months.
"This is an amazing institution," he said. "The men and women of the Senate work extremely hard for their constitutents. We've had a few bumps in the road because of the trails and tribulations of a couple of members. But nonetheless that's not a reflection of the hard work that Democrats and Republicans do or produce for their constituents."
PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon