State Sen. Jerry Hill today is introducing legislation limiting political spending by officials to organizations with familial ties — a bill in part reacting to the fundraising scandal caused by the Latino Legislative Caucus donating $25,000 to a group ran by its former vice chairman’s brother.
“This is one piece of the political reform puzzle,” Hill said.
The bill by Hill, D-San Mateo, also proposes several other changes to the Political Reform Act which governs the disclosure of political money. Among them are prohibitions of elected officials contributing campaign funds to business entities or nonprofits operated by another elected official on the same body, family members or family members of other elected officials. The legislation would also cap travel-related gives to elected officials from nonprofits and other groups at $5,000 in a calendar year and ban the use of campaign funs for an elected official’s personal needs like mortgage, rent utility bills, vacation and entertainment tickets.
Currently, state law only requires the reporting of so-called behested payments — contributions solicited by elected officials for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes — more than $5,000 per year from a single source and do not place any limits on the amount. Behest payments are not considered campaign contributions or gifts.
Hill cited a Common Cause report that recently found that in 2012 state elected officials received $216,000 in gifts and travel payments and either solicited or received $6.7 million in behested payments.
One politician spent $12,000 on one trip, according to the report, Hill said.
He proposes lowering the threshold for behested payments to $2,500 and requiring the Fair Political Practices Commission to post the transactions within 30 days on its website.
Although Hill’s proposed legislation doesn’t make any mention of specific incidents, it follows on the heels of the FBI’s corruption investigation of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who formerly served two years as the Latino Legislative Caucus’ vice chairman. The caucus donated $25,000 to a group run by Calderon’s brother.
Calderon has denied any wrongdoing.
News of the investigation broke in late October when the state Legislature was in recess and Hill said as the body reconvenes it is time to update the act and increase transparency.
Hill said his bill is also a reaction to conduct like that of former state senator Dean Florez of Fresno who was fined $60,000 for misusing campaign funds for personal use and not refunding donations after aborting his bid for lieutenant governor. The democrat’s purchases include airfare, dining, concert tickers and gas.
The problem is that the Political Reform Act of 1974 says the money must be used for political purposes but doesn’t adequately define what that is, Hill said.
“What was done by former senator Florez crossed the line but then there is no real clear line there. What we’re doing is identifying that line,” he said.
Hill’s bill needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
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