San Luis Obispo County’s two state legislators achieved a rare distinction last year — they and a third official were the only ones of 133 lawmakers and constitutional officers to decline special-interest perks.
Lawmakers and constitutional officers accepted more than $750,000 in food, travel or other gifts last year, shattering the mark of roughly $520,000 received the prior year, according to financial disclosures made last week to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Gifts ranged from overseas trips and golf rounds to tickets to Disneyland or Sacramento Kings games. Givers consisted of American Indian tribes, energy firms, law enforcement groups and other powerful Capitol players.
The rise in handouts follows several years of belt-tightening imposed by California’s independent salary-setting commission, which has cut lawmakers’ pay to $95,291 from $116,208, eliminated their cars and reduced per diem payments.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
The three who accepted no gifts last year are Republicans, and two are from San Luis Obispo County: Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian of San Luis Obispo and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo. The third was Michelle Steel of the Board of Equalization.
Phillip Ung of the government watchdog group California Common Cause said the rise in gifts suggests that lawmakers feel no stigma about taking from interests that often seek their votes on legislation.
“It’s disappointing,” Ung said. “Voters send public officials to Sacramento to solve the issues in front of the state, not to cash in perks that special interests hand them. And they seem to be cashing in quite a bit.”
Last year, Blakeslee wrote a bill that would have banned the flow of thousands of dollars in sports, golf, spa, theme park and other gifts to legislators. “I think it’s an embarrassment to the institution,” Blakeslee said in June, when legislative leaders sidetracked the measure and it never came up for a vote. “We aren’t willing to get tough on politicians that are feeding at the trough, and frankly, it’s an outrage.”
State law allows legislators to accept gifts valued up to $420 in a calendar year from a single source.
Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown reported only three gifts totaling $305: flowers, dinner and a beer stein.
Assembly members with the largest totals for gifts last year, including travel, were Democrat Steven Bradford of Gardena, $38,073; Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, $35,704; and Marty Block, D-San Diego, $22,965.