LOS ANGELES – Top aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) have skirted state regulations limiting gifts from special interest groups by spreading them around through their families, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
California law allows officials to accept up to $340 in gifts in a year from any one special interest, but state officials have sidestepped the cap in several instances, according to a Times review of lobbying reports.
Five of Schwarzenegger's senior aides and their families each accepted more than $340 in tickets to a Sacramento Kings (search) basketball game on one night alone, sitting in luxury boxes supplied by phone company SBC and oil giant BP, the newspaper said. And last May, communications director Rob Stutzman (search), his wife and son were treated to $767 worth of tickets from SBC.
Under state law, gifts handed out directly to relatives rather than the state official aren't counted toward the $340 limit, the Times said.
Schwarzenegger has railed against special interests since before becoming governor in last year's recall election.
"I think any of those kind of real powerful special interests, if you take money from them, you owe them something because like (economist) Milton Friedman said a long time ago, there's no such thing as a free lunch," he said during the campaign.
The governor's press secretary, Margita Thompson, said accepting gifts from major corporations that lobby state government fits in with the Schwarzenegger administration's plan to modify the state Capital's political environment.
"One of the things the governor came into Sacramento to do is change the culture," Thompson said. "And one of the things that has to happen to change the culture and create a more bipartisan atmosphere is that people have to talk to each other."
Thompson also argued that family outings provide leisure time for hardworking staff and that bonds between children at such events can help foster political relationships.
"I've certainly heard of instances where two little boys whose parents are in opposing parties end up hanging out and bonding as children can uniquely do. And suddenly, you have an even deeper tie," she said.