Friday, November 28, 2008

The Smell Test: Epic Fail

The Los Angeles Times has a disturbing article about the fact that one-quarter of California state legislators hold outside jobs or business interests. Some even sit on committees which oversee the very industries the legislators are part of in their "other" jobs, and it's all perfectly legal.

California's full-time lawmakers are the highest paid in the nation, earning $150,000 a year including salary and expenses (those in leadership posts make more). The salary is justified, lawmakers often say, because it enables them to live and support their families without outside income.

Yet 30 of the state's 120 legislators own businesses or hold other outside jobs, according to their most recent statements of economic interest, and some earn more income away from the Capitol than from the public payroll. They own such enterprises as car dealerships, farms, insurance companies, a plastics firm and a real estate appraisal firm. They work in law, agriculture, health insurance and other medical fields.

Some have routinely voted on legislation that affects their private income. Several lawmakers sit on committees that oversee legislation governing their professions or industries.

State law does not prohibit the practice: legislators are allowed to vote on bills which affect their profession or industry as long as the legislation is general in scope and doesn't affect any particular company. In other words, the owner of an insurance agency can vote (and has done so in several cases) on a bill to expand health care coverage by the state.

A sitting legislator defends the system by noting California's term limits law:

... Legislators need to keep businesses so they have something to return to when they leave office, said Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia).

"You don't have any kind of retirement [benefit] with the Legislature," said Maze, owner of a farming enterprise and a property-inspection business.

Oh, please!

More often than not, after serving two terms in the Assembly, a termed out legislator runs for the State Senate, or for Insurance Commissioner, or even Governor. It's not like these hardy public servants put in their time and go away.

Even if they did, however, two terms is a long enough time to commit all sorts of lucrative mischief. Grateful clients have all sorts of ways to reward favorable votes by their captive legislator, including steering more business to that legislator's company. It's not difficult to see where that legislator's loyalty is going to lie.

California needs to change this system, even if the change involves nothing more than mandatory recusals when a bill affecting the legislator's personal business interests are involved. That's the very least we should demand of our lawmakers.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Sweet Leaping Chuy!!!

That's unconscionable. My last ex, the dean, doesn't make $150K (I don't think...). She runs a college consisting of about 40 faculty, and all the support personnel, and a budget (guessing again) of $10-15Mil.

Just out of curiosity, is there any break-down of the partisan affiliations of these egregious double-dippers?

Hope you're holding up okay. Didja get the donation I left earlier?

I don't have enough traffic to justify using the

12:04 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Woody, I had to go to the dead tree edition to get the information. A chart accompanied the article listing the 30 legislators who reported holding outside employment. 20 were Republican, 10 Democratic.

It still stinks.

And yes, dear friend, I did get the donation. Gradually I'm getting out from under the financial load, thanks to generous and kind people such as you.

5:38 PM  

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