Proving once again that the driest of bureaucratic documents often contain the most interesting things, Judy Lin of the Sacramento Bee digs through the disclosure forms that state lawmakers are required to file and discovers:
... from January 2005 to June 30, 2006, groups with business at the Capitol gave lawmakers and their staff at least $218,000 in free passes to 85 assorted sporting events, concerts and shows at an assortment of venues.
Often, the free passes were accompanied by access to luxury suites and free parking, as well as food and drinks.
That may sound suspect, but remarkably enough, it's not illegal.
Under current Fair Political Practices Commission rules, lobbyists can spend up to $10 a month on each of the 120 lawmakers and each member of their staffs. However, Capitol workers can accept gifts from other sources, including lobbyist employers such as BP America, AT&T or the Walt Disney Co., of up to $360 a year from any one source.
There's no cap for spouses and dependent children.
This setup is attractive to both lawmakers and the corporations who want to influence them.
"Everybody loves tickets," said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "There's only one reason (lobbying groups) give tickets: to advance their agenda."
And who among all the Solons of Sacramento suckled hardest at the generous corporate teat during the period the Bee studied? Who "had the highest value of tickets among lawmakers"? None other than OC's own Todd Spitzer.
Did you know that Todd Spitzer is a classic rock fan, and that he's very generous when someone else is picking up the tab? The influence peddlers in Sacramento who dole out the freebies do.
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Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, a classic rock fan, attends several concerts a year. He says the value of his tickets is inflated, because he logs all the tickets he requests for his children's friends, not just the tickets he uses.
"I'll go to the (Orange County) fair, and I always take a group of kids. I have to claim all the tickets, not just the one I used," Spitzer said.
But Spitzer's career as a politician and freebie sponge isn't just about free concerts and going to the Fair– no, it's also about economic development and getting into Disneyland for free.
And Spitzer went to Disneyland. He called it a visit to an important "economic driver" in his Assembly district -- not a perk in exchange for political favors.
Because, as we all know, you can't really discuss economic development in OC until you've taken a couple of spins on the teacups for free.