Disclosure Laws Need Updating to Hold Public Officials Accountable
In the aftermath of political and financial scandals like the City of Bell, or more locally, the John Drayman embezzlement case, people across the state have raised concerns about government transparency.
California legislators and other public officials must file annual forms disclosing private financial interests and investments. However, The Bay Area Newsgroup recently noted that “California hasn’t significantly updated its financial disclosure laws for elected officials in decades, and the forms that officials must fill out require only the vaguest information … Elected officials also need not disclose exactly what their businesses do or who their partners are.”
I believe that increased transparency is essential to protecting public resources, preventing corruption and restoring public trust. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to modernize disclosure forms to give Californians better information about their representatives.
The legislation, AB 10, would address these concerns by modernizing the Form 700 disclosure document in five ways. First, it clarifies the reporting ranges for investments, property and income to be more in line with modern property value ranges and provides accurate financial interests of an elected official. Second, it requires elected officials to disclose the identities of business partners because the public deserves to know if legislation will create a conflict of interest by providing direct financial gain to that legislator’s business partner. Third, elected officials will need to disclose the exact nature of their businesses for the public to identify any potential conflicts of interest. Fourth, elected officials will need to report when they recuse themselves from a vote due to conflicts of interest. Finally, it would extend the behested payment reporting requirements to include candidates and elected officials for one year after leaving elective office, so that elected officials must disclose if they solicit funds from outside institutions during their term in order to pay their own salaries on their way out of office.
It has received bipartisan support and passed the state Assembly by a vote of 79-0. I hope the Senate and Gov. Brown will support this important legislation to bring our financial disclosure laws into the 21st century.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, and the longest-serving current member of the state Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit www.asm.ca.gov/gatto.