Why L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa Is in Hot, Or at Least Lukewarm, Water Over Ethics Violations

Villaraigosa should have known better. He is not a rookie grassroots candidate running an election on a shoestring. He is the mayor of Los Angeles.
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California's political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), together with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, jointly investigated Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's acceptance of free tickets to sporting events, tapings of television shows, and rock concerts, among other events, during the first five years of his tenure as mayor. Each agency suggested a fine of approximately $21,000, for a total of $42,000 in penalties.

The state agency found that Villaraigosa failed to disclose 21 tickets worth more than $50, that he received to sporting and entertainment events. Under California law, officials do not have to disclose tickets as gifts if they perform a "ceremonial role or function" at the event for which the tickets are purchased. Examples of ceremonial roles or functions might be throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game or cutting a ribbon at a stadium opening. Villaraigosa apparently mistakenly believed he fell under the "ceremonial" exception, but could not point to such a role in any of the events for which he is likely to be fined, such as a Spice Girls concert and taping of American Idol.

The city agency found that the mayor committed 12 violations of the city's municipal code by accepting tickets from companies that had permits approved by City Council members or employed lobbyists, so-called restricted sources. Such companies are considered to be "restricted sources" that are prohibited from giving gifts exceeding $100 per year because contributions or donations from them raise potential concerns about conflicts of interest. For instance, some of the tickets came from AEG, the company currently lobbying the city to build a NFL stadium.

The City Ethics Commission has already changed the law as a result of Villaraigosa's actions, voting to ban officials from accepting free tickets if the donor has business before the city.
Villaraigosa should have known better. He is not a rookie grassroots candidate running an election on a shoestring. He is the mayor of Los Angeles, who has been part of the City or State government for nearly two decades. He also should have asked both the state and city agencies for advice, something he failed to do, but likely could have saved him from this entire ordeal.

Villaraigosa has agreed to the fine. The FPPC will rule on whether to impose the penalty in its April 11th meeting.

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