RICHMOND -- When Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin returned from a six-day excursion through Ecuador to tour sites of environmental devastation in September, she told the media she benefited from a broadened perspective and steeled resolve to continue her struggle against big oil, including her city's biggest taxpayer, Chevron's Richmond refinery.
She also said the trip was paid for by the Ecuadorean government through a New York City-based public relations firm.
But when she filed her form 700 in April -- a state-mandated report of investments, property holdings and gifts designed to show the public any potential conflicts of interest -- the gifted travel was omitted.
"I acted based on advice given awhile back by a former city attorney," McLaughlin wrote in an email April 29.
Days later, on May 5, McLaughlin filed a new form reporting the travel gift of $4,499 from Presidencia Republica Del Ecuador.
The former city attorney whom she said gave her the advice, Randy Riddle, declined to comment.
Current City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller said any advice he gave to McLaughlin is protected by attorney-client privilege laws.
The state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which polices campaign finance disclosure forms, did not know about the unreported gift until it was contacted by a reporter.
Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said Thursday the travel gift violates no laws but must be reported.
"There are no limits on foreign government paying for travel for public officials if the travel is for a political, governmental or legislative purpose, but those officials are required to disclose the travel payments," Wierenga said.
Wierenga added that filers may amend their reports at any time, and that "amending an incorrect or incomplete statement may be considered as evidence of good faith."
The FPPC can levy penalties up to $5,000 per violation.
Before she filed the amendment, McLaughlin said she was waiting for further advice from Goodmiller.
"It's hardly been a secret that I went to Ecuador and the government of Ecuador paid for my trip, of course," McLaughlin wrote. "But I'll wait to hear back from (Bruce Goodmiller's) office and act accordingly."
She filed the amendment six days later.
Form 700s are standard reports that elected officials and candidates file, with the goal being that the general public should know about their property holdings, other investments and gifts received so they can gauge whether there are any potential conflicts of interest.
The mayor has no investments, according to her Form 700, and just the one gift over the last year to travel to Ecuador. Litigants from the South American nation have sued Chevron over alleged environmental destruction resulting from its business there, a suit the mayor has publicly supported. McLaughlin is also a consistent critic of Chevron's Richmond refinery. Councilman Tom Butt, whose own form 700 shows extensive investments and real estate holdings, said he was unconcerned by McLaughlin's oversight.
"The fact that Ecuador doesn't really have any business in front of the City Council means it's not a high priority," Butt said. "But if it needs to be reported, it needs to be reported. She got different information, apparently, and corrected it and moved on."
McLaughlin's wasn't the only form 700 that came back blank.
Councilman Corky Boozé, who has been tied to at least two scrap yards in the city that have been flagged for code violations, also reported no gifts or assets on his form 700.
Boozé noted that the yards are owned by Laura Baker, thought to be his former partner.
"I have nothing to report," Boozé said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.