California governor vetoes ethics bills

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Despite a series of political scandals that marred the California state Senate this year, Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he had vetoed key ethics bills seeking to place new restrictions on gift giving and campaign spending.

The Democratic governor said politicians should be subject to campaign finance rules, but the general activities addressed in the bills already are subject to regulation and disclosure.

The political ethics bills originated in the state Senate, where lawmakers have been under a cloud after federal agents arrested two Democrats in unrelated corruption cases. Agents say supporters lavished gifts and dinners on Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello to curry favor.

"Year after year, the same concerns are raised about the same political practices currently permitted by state law, which these vetoed bills sought to address," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in a statement. "This was an opportunity missed."

SB831 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, sought to ban elected officials from requesting payments on their behalf to nonprofit organizations run by family members.

"I don't agree with the Governor that these requirements would add more complexity," Hill said in a statement. "I believe SB 831 would have provided the public and our elected officials with critical transparency requirements and political expenditure safeguards at a time when the electorate's confidence has been shaken by recent indictments."

Federal officials accuse Calderon of directing an undercover agent to donate $25,000 to a nonprofit run by his brother, former lawmaker Tom Calderon, who also is facing charges.

Hill's legislation also would have placed restrictions on lawmakers trying to spend campaign contributions on personal perks, such as vacations, utility payments, and gifts for family members.

Brown, however, wrote in his veto message, "The additional restrictions proposed by this bill would add more complexity to the regulations governing elected officials, without reducing undue influence."

During the legislative session, lawmakers pushed Hill to remove more stringent provisions from his bill, including capping annual travel expenses paid by donors at $5,000 and banning the use of campaign money to pay legal costs to fight criminal charges.

Brown also vetoed SB1443 by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, which would have outlawed gifts from lobbyists and reduce the annual overall gift limit for lawmakers from $440 to $200. It also would have banned the most extravagant types of gifts such as sports and concert tickets.

The governor said the bill would have complicated the state's existing campaign finance law, which already imposes a gift limit with an adjustment for inflation.

"Politicians should be subject to various constraints," Brown wrote. "I would point out, however, that some balance and common sense is required."

Brown also rejected SB1442 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. It would have increased the frequency of detailed campaign spending reports from twice a year to quarterly.

The governor, however, did sign a bill in response to a record fine against a top lobbying firm.

SB1441, also by Lara, prohibits lobbyists from holding fundraisers for elected officials at the homes and offices of lobbyists.

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