Ethics Commission considers tightening elected official gifts amid Villairagosa investigation

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) and broadcast journalist Lu Parker attend a garden party hosted by Villaraigosa in honor of LA Pride at Getty House on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) and broadcast journalist Lu Parker attend a garden party hosted by Villaraigosa in honor of LA Pride at Getty House on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. David Livingston/Getty Images

The Ethics Commission today began considering tighter restrictions on gifts that elected officials can accept from donors with business before the city.

The proposed changes in the city's Governmental Ethics Ordinance come as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is being investigated for accepting thousands of dollars worth of tickets to entertainment and sporting events sponsored by such companies as Anschutz Entertainment Group, which has real estate and other interests downtown.

The Ethics Commission's director of policy and legislation, Heather Holt, presented a list of recommendations aimed at ensuring "impartiality and fairness,'' but the panel opted not to vote on the matter today. Instead, members sought additional information to help guide their decision.

Holt said elected officials who accept tickets to entertainment events to perform a ceremonial function must disclose it in their Statement of Economic Interests, and maintain a record for four years.

When the donor of such a ticket is a "restricted source'' -- defined as "a person who is actively engaged in business with the city and desires a favorable result in a city decision'' -- Holt said elected officials should be required to leave the event after performing the ceremonial function.

The panel asked if that meant an elected official who presented a plaque during the halftime ceremony at a Lakers game should be barred from watching the rest of the game. Holt answered in the affirmative.

"We believe that one of these types of admission tickets (from restricted sources) can affect the public's perception of the integrity of the city's decision-making processes,'' she said.

Holt said the proposed amendments to the Governmental Ethics Ordinance would allow "special admission to the ceremonial function instead of to the event itself.''

Villaraigosa's lawyer, Brian Currey, said previously that when the mayor attends events, he performs the duty of promoting the city.

Holt's response: "I think the state has said that simply being an elected official at one of these kinds of events does not rise to the level of a ceremonial function.''

"Honestly, I didn't write the Charter or the law or anything, but I don't think the intention was for anybody to be able to, in their position...go anywhere over and over and over again and present a ceremonial plaque and be able to sit in the box seats at the Hollywood Bowl,'' she added.

Villaraigosa's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission is also conducting an investigation into Villaraigosa's acceptance of free tickets, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has opened a preliminary inquiry.

Records released by the mayor's office last month showed Villaraigosa recalled attending 85 entertainment and sporting events over his five years in office -- including 15 Dodger games, 13 Laker games, 10 other sporting events, 22 concerts and 26 awards shows.

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