Responding to an unusual spate of corruption allegations and the revelation that an in-house law enforcement officer had used drugs the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting, the California Senate passed new rules Monday that will create an ethics ombudsman, update the Senate’s code of conduct and ban senators from collecting campaign checks during the last four weeks of the legislative session.
But the Senate also shot down a bill that sought a broader campaign fundraising ban and passed a watered-down ethics bill striking out an attempt to limit the value of travel officials may take at the expense of interest groups who lobby them. It also eliminated a provision that would have banned officials from using campaign cash to pay their criminal defense lawyers.
In passing Senate Resolution 44, the upper house agreed to give up campaign fundraising for the month of August this year, a time when lawmakers typically are voting on hundreds of bills that affect the wealthy interests who fund their campaigns. If adopted as part of the Senate rules in future years, it would ban fundraising during the month leading up to approval of the state budget as well as the final month of the legislative session.
The rule “ensures that members of the Senate are solely focused on legislative business during the most critical times of the year,” Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in presenting the measure on the Senate floor.
Sen. Alex Padilla, the Los Angeles Democrat who had pushed for a broader fundraising blackout, said he’d keep working on his SB 1101 and bring it back for another vote. The bill originally sought to ban fundraising for the last 100 days of the legislative session. After amendments, it would cover the same time period as de León’s rule. The major difference between the two is that the rule applies only to the Senate while Padilla’s bill would apply to both houses of the Legislature.
It needed approval from two-thirds of the Senate to pass but failed to garner support from Republicans.
“We don’t believe this bill goes far enough,” said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, adding that his caucus wants the ban to apply to anyone running for state Legislature – not just the incumbents.
Republicans did give some support to Sen. Jerry Hill’s measure to restrict how officials can spend their campaign funds and require more disclosure of who pays for gifts of travel, allowing SB 831 to pass.
But the bill had been amended in the Appropriations Committee to delete three key provisions: an $8,000 limit on travel gifts, increased reporting of “behested” payments that officials ask interest groups to give to charities, and prohibitions against using campaign funds for criminal defense. Hill, D-San Mateo, added the last provision after Sen. Leland Yee was charged in federal court with taking bribes and conspiring to traffic weapons.
De León, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the cap on travel gifts was deleted because “we have to travel.” After the committee hearing, Hill said he did not know why the restriction on criminal defense funds had been stricken from his bill. On Monday, De León said he was not prepared to explain why the bill had been amended.
California lawmakers were treated to more than $550,000 in travel-related expenses in 2013, according to a Bee analysis. De León accepted more than $20,000 worth of travel gifts last year, including trips to Scandinavia, Mexico and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers help California by making the trips, he has said in the past, pointing to a trip he took to Mexico to meet with officials about drug trafficking.
Hill’s bill would require lawmakers to disclose the destinations of the trips and require the nonprofits to spell out who paid for them.