Several California lawmakers accepted gifts that totaled more than $810,000 last year from lobbyists who handed out free tickets to sports and concerts, a new state report obtained by the San Diego Union Tribune shows.
The report shows that multiple companies gave out expensive treats to state legislators in an attempt to sway their decisions on certain political topics and legislature. While many senators accepted fully paid trips to places like Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands for trade missions or panel discussions, others accepted tickets, spa treatments, and dinners that were for purely personal reasons.
Former Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) reportedly accepted a luxury box set to see the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Boston Red Sox in the World Series from the group Communities for California Cardrooms, which totaled $615. Additionally, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) enjoyed a $460 pair of tickets to Game 5 of the World Series, along with more than $1,800 in tickets to various sporting events provided by the president of the East Los Angeles Community Union.
Legislators also made appearances at concerts during the year; Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine) attended an $400 Steven Tyler concert with paid lodging and meals from the Pechanga Resort and Casino, and Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) saw Katy Perry in concert thanks to a $238 ticket from AT&T. Others saw Disney On Ice, were treated to a weekend at a golf resort, and received spa treatments, food, and wine and champagne.
“The truth is the vast majority of gifts and trips are given because the gift givers want something in return,” Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of the government watchdog organization California Common Cause, told the Tribune. “It’s not just a question of the gift giver wanting something in return, but that the public could infer that even if it’s not true. There is potential for the public’s faith in government to be undermined.”
While these gifts could lead to changes within the legislation from pressure or bribes, it is not illegal. In 2014, a bill to restrict gifts was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said “proper disclosure as already provided by the law, should be sufficient to guard against undue influence.” However, Lopez-Calderon noted that officials should be careful about which gifts they accept due to “the potential of corruption, not just in quid pro quo but, also more subtle and insidious relationships.”
Lobbyists handing out free tickets to high-profile events isn’t new — last year, Los Angeles government officials accepted tickets to the opening night of the highly-acclaimed show Hamilton at Pantages Theatre, exceeding the $470 annual limit on gifts elected officials are allowed to accept. Additionally, the NYC Teachers Union made news last fall after the Union Chief, Michael Mulgrew, reportedly accepted over $8,000 worth of US Open Tennis tickets from a law firm.