The Los Angeles Times has a pretty good piece about the county sheriff, Lee Baca, who has become quite comfortable taking gifts. This kind of behavior is something that many elected and appointed officials engage in, but it is especially stinging for Latino elected officials. It raises questions of conflict of interest and creates the appearance that the office is “for sale”. On the other hand, I have met plenty of government employees and elected officials who are very vigilant when it comes to accepting (or rather refusing) gifts.
Check this out:
‘Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted gifts from executives seeking his agency’s business, individuals who later received special treatment from him, and even a pair of felons implicated in a massive money-laundering and fraud scheme, according to a Times review of disclosure records.
Donors have lavished on Baca free rounds of golf, meals, fine wines and liquor, and tickets to sporting events.
Since becoming sheriff in 1998, he has accepted more than $120,000 worth of gifts and free travel. In a recent three-year span, he accepted significantly more freebies than California’s 57 other sheriffs combined.
State law allows local officials to accept gifts, with some restrictions. But government watchdogs said Baca’s willingness to accept so many gifts creates potential conflicts of interest.
“Doesn’t he realize the appearance is terrible?” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “When you’re taking gifts from strangers, there’s only one reason. They only give gifts because they want something.”
Baca rejected the notion that donors were looking for special favors or treatment.
“The implication of all these gifts is ‘Well, they’re influence-buying.’ Nothing could be more opposite than that,” he said. “What they’re expressing is appreciation for the respectful way we do business.”‘
Now continue reading the article to see the great lengths the Orange County Sheriff to the south takes to avoid the issues that Baca has. And see what happens when a civil dispute is elevated and one of the parties involved is a gift-giving friend of Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca.