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Senate approves tighter gift bans, ethics rules

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Lawmakers on Monday approved watered-down versions of campaign finance reform and ethics bills, even as they sought to restore public trust in government as three suspended lawmakers face criminal cases.

Senators approved SB831 by Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo on 35-1 vote, and it moves to the Assembly. It requires new disclosures for travel-related gifts and would ban elected officials from requesting payments on their behalf to nonprofit organizations run by family members.

It also bans elected officials from using campaign funds for their mortgage, rent, utility bills, clothing, club memberships, vacations, tuition, tickets for sporting and entertainment events, vehicles and gifts to family members.

However, the version that was passed did not cap the amount of travel lawmakers are allowed to receive from donors. It also imposed no ban on using campaign funds for attorney's fees and other costs related to criminal charges.

Those restrictions were in Hill's original proposal seeking to untangle the web of money and politics.

The Senate also approved SB1103 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, on a 33-1 vote, and it moves to the Assembly. It bars candidates from fundraising for more than one state office at a time.

“It seems to me pretty common sense: If you can't run for more than one office at a time, you shouldn't be able to raise money for more than one office at a time,” Padilla said.

Lawmakers, however, rejected Padilla's SB1101 on a 23-3 vote. The measure would have banned fundraising during budget votes and at the end of the legislative session.

Instead, the Senate passed nonbinding house rules banning fundraising during the same timeframe.

Padilla said he was willing to take suggestions and asked for lawmakers to reconsider his bill later. He also said the blackout period should apply to more than lawmakers.

Republicans who opposed Padilla's bill said they didn't believe such fundraising restrictions would reduce corruption.

“I don't believe any rule is going to keep anyone who is crooked honest,” said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine.

The bills were in response to scandals that have tarnished the integrity of the state Legislature this year. They were part of a wave of proposals aimed at strengthening political ethics and reforming laws governing campaign contributions.

A prominent lobbyist was slapped with a record fine for illegally throwing lavish fundraisers for top elected officials at his home.

Sen. Rod Wright of Los Angeles was convicted for lying about living inside his district. Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello faces federal corruption charges after authorities said he accepted $100,000 in bribes for friends and family in exchange for legislation, while Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was charged with accepting bribes and orchestrating weapons and drug trafficking to help pay off campaign debts.

Both Calderon and Yee have pleaded not guilty.

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