Blakeslee’s political reform bills target gifts, 'robocalls’

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee is targeting “robocalls” and “lavish” gifts such as tickets to Los Angeles Lakers games in a political reform package he has introduced.

“It’s time for Sacramento to get serious about political reform,” said Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, as he introduced three separate reform bills this week.

Blakeslee defined robocalls as “automated, prerecorded messages that political campaigns implement on behalf of candidates and ballot measures.” He said in a news release that they are “conducted by special interest groups and campaigns without regard to a voter’s desire to receive them.”

He said his bill would allow voters to opt out of receiving these calls by joining a “do not call” list. In addition, Blakeslee said his legislation would make it easier for voters to find out who is behind automated messages.

The senator is not suggesting that robocalls end.

“The bill does not propose to ban political robocalls,” according to his press aide, Erin Shaw. “We are the first ones to acknowledge that there may be important information relayed through automated calls that many voters may see as helpful.”

“The special election in which Sam ran (earlier this year) is actually a great example,” Shaw wrote in an e-mail. “Due to the off-cycle schedule, many voters remembered to participate in the election as a result of reminder calls from both sides.

“Some voters may wish to continue receiving these types of calls. But for many other voters, such calls are a nuisance. By creating a ‘do not call’ registry for voters who do not wish to receive robocalls, our intention is to empower the voters to make a determination about whether they want to be contacted in this manner.”

In August, Blakeslee took over the Senate seat vacated by Abel Maldonado. His election followed a campaign against Democrat John Laird that many criticized as being highly negative, especially in the respective candidates’ use of mailers and television advertisements.

Blakeslee’s reform package does not address those tactics.

In addition to going after robocalls, the senator is targeting what he calls “lavish” gifts from lobbyists and their employers.

“Legislators do not require Pebble Beach tee times (at golf courses), box tickets to the Lakers or international getaways to do their jobs,” Blakeslee said.

“This type of extravagant gifting in a time when California families are struggling to pay their bills fosters the wrong culture in Sacramento and sends the wrong message to the public,” he wrote.

Under current law, Shaw said, registered lobbyists are prohibited from providing a legislator with any gift with a value in excess of $10 a month. But the lobbyist’s employer is not subject to this limit.

“This is where the problematic loophole exists,” Shaw wrote. “The lobbyist employer is instead subject to a $420/year limit.”

Shaw wrote that in 2007, the total value of tickets and passes to sporting events, concerts and places such as Disneyland given to Assembly members and senators was $37,420.86.

The total value of recreational activities such as ski trips, hunting trips and spa treatments was $7,850.40.

“These are the sorts of special-interest gifts the public sought to prohibit when they passed the Political Reform Act in 1974 and imposed the limits on lobbyist gifts,” Shaw wrote.

“Yet the gift giving persists under this lobbyist employer loophole. It is this loophole that we are seeking to close, essentially holding lobbyist employers to the same standard as the lobbyists they employ.”

Finally, Blakeslee is calling for all budget-related documents and trailer bills to be publicly posted no less than 72 hours before a vote is held.

Shaw wrote, “We are working closely with the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) and reform groups like CALPIRG to craft certain details of the bills.

“Our past attempts have helped us better understand and anticipate the creative technical objections some legislators use to avoid closing these loopholes. So we’re currently evaluating our options to determine the strongest possible approach.”