In the news

Patrick McGreevy and Michael J. Mishak

Reporting from Sacramento — Trips to Spain and Argentina, choice Lakers tickets, gourmet meals and rounds of golf are among the $637,000 in gifts that elected state officials accepted last year, many from companies and groups that lobby in Sacramento.

The gifts, disclosed in statements of economic interest released by the state Thursday, reflect how loose ethics rules are in California compared with some other states. Acceptance of many of the gifts common in California is strictly forbidden in New York and Arizona, for example.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reported the most gifts, worth $125,000. Much of it was trade-related travel to Russia, England and Asia, paid for by a nonprofit group that raised money from corporations that supported him as governor.

State legislators accepted $478,000 in gifts, including ties, wine, cigars, Disneyland tickets, gym memberships, haircuts, cufflinks and golf clubs from groups such as the state prison guards union and drug manufacturers.

One of the biggest givers was AT&T, which lobbies state officials on legislation involving telecommunications. The firm gave a pair of Lakers tickets worth $326 to then-Sen. Gilbert Cedillo (D- Los Angeles); Bon Jovi concert tickets worth $309 to Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach); a World Series ticket worth $344 to current Sen. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego); and a round of golf at Torrey Pines worth $272 to then-Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego), now a senator.

More than two dozen lawmakers reported receiving expenses for travel, to destinations that included Hawaii, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Chile and Argentina. Some of the educational trips were paid for by nonprofit groups that get their financing from corporations seeking favors in Sacramento.

Such disclosures are leading to a fresh round of calls for restrictions on what state officials can accept.

"The amount of access you get to elected officials shouldn't be determined by how much money you have to spend on sports tickets and fancy dinners," said Pedro Morillas, a consumer advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group.

CALPIRG has supported legislation by Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) to severely curtail the gift-giving in Sacramento. His latest proposal would prohibit state officials from accepting a variety of gifts, including tickets to theme parks, sporting events, plays, concerts and horse-racing tracks, as well as spa treatments, greens fees and gift cards.

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