Should Public Service in California Come with Perks?

Written by Common Cause Interns on June 12, 2013

Ethics thumbnail for issue buckets


California Legislators are paid a base salary of $95,291 a year and a per diem rate equivalent to $30,000 a year. Although more than double the salary of an average Californian, many of these well-connected politicians could be making more money as a consultant or in the private sector. Should public servants, those who dedicate themselves to the legislature and serving the people, be able to supplement their state-provided income with other means? Should public servants have to compromise their quality of life they could instead afford if they worked in the private sector?

The recent FBI raid and investigation of State Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) brought to light questions about gifts, perks, and the ethics laws surrounding public officials. California Common Cause found that Senator Calderon received more than $7,800 worth of gifts in 2012, including free travel and rounds of golf. Calderon's average gift, valued at $320, is more than three times the average gift received by other legislators. In fact, Calderon received more in gifts than his other colleagues and Governor Jerry Brown.

Although Senator Calderon properly followed existing gift laws, the nearly $200,000 in gifts received by California legislators in 2012 alone, is cause for the public's concern. Should public servants be allowed to receive hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of gifts from special interests annually? Should corporate-funded front groups be able to "educate" legislators by footing the bill to attend conferences and junkets?

California Common Cause says no. Voters rightly recognize that pricey gifts come with influence and expensive dinners give interest groups air time with legislators. The state pays enough for legislators to survive in California, so any additional benefits come with their own intentions. Regular citizens cannot cough up gifts to receive special consideration, so government officials truly serving the public interest should not accept gifts from special interests.

NOTE: California Common Cause does not know the nature or extent of the FBI investigation or the extent to Senator Calderon's involvement, due to a sealed federal warrant. This blog post does not espouse a judgment on the innocence or guilt of Senator Calderon or those involved in the ongoing investigation.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics

Tags: Congressional Ethics

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