Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in governmental ethics, said that the issue of elected officials accepting gifts is a balance between what is allowed versus what appears to cross the line of undue influence. “If the laws allows legislators to accept gifts, then is it improper or indecent for them to do so?” she asked. ”While some gifts are permissible, it can intuitively feel problematic when our elected lawmakers accept gifts when we all strongly suspect they would not receive those gifts were it not for their official roles, and the power they wield in those roles.”
That appearance of impropriety is exacerbated when lawmakers travel with lobbyists on extravagant junkets to exotic locales. Last year, California lawmakers collected passport stamps from Germany, Switzerland, Cuba, Mexico, Poland, Norway, Taiwan, Israel, China, Armenia, Sweden, Canada and South Korea, much of it on the dime of special interest groups.
“When it comes to traveling and attending conferences, I want our officials to leave the Capitol and learn from others,” Levinson said. “I don’t necessarily want them to do all of that on the public’s dime. When the conferences look fishy, or the sources of the funds have substantial business before the state, it is certainly fair to ask questions.”