California's ethics laws need a major overhaul in 2014.
That need is made clear not only by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer's taking a side job with a major law firm while he serves out more than a year in his elected term, but also because there is no prohibition in the law against him doing so.
And, there's little in the state's disclosure requirements to make Lockyer publicly account for what he'll being doing for his new employer, Boston-based Brown Rudnick LLP.
True, Lockyer must, at some point, report his outside income on an annual Statement of Economic Interest, also known as a Form 700. But those forms are basically a joke.
And if Lockyer doesn't receive any income from Brown Rudnick this year, he won't have to report anything he does with the firm until 2015 -- after his term ends. And what he will have to report is only a range of what he was paid.
Those ranges are ridiculously broad -- $10,000 to $100,000; $100,000 to $1 million; and more than $1 million.
This isn't the first time Lockyer has hustled a buck on the side while being elected to safeguard the financial assets, investments and borrowing of the country's most populous state. He worked for a Hayward law firm, Furtado, Jaspovice and Simons, while also being treasurer.
But the laws required him to report virtually nothing about that job. His Form 700 states he was paid between $10,000 and $100,000 in 2012. That's all the reporting he'll be required to do for his new, and presumably better-paying gig.
Nothing requires disclosure of what clients he'll represent, or cases he'll work on, or how much time away from the treasurer's office he'll spend.
Lockyer, naturally said all the right things about the new job. He'll avoid conflicts. His priority's being treasurer. What did you expect him to say?
Brown Rudnick didn't hire a former attorney general to work on little matters. They got a former attorney general to make it rain by using his considerable influence and connections to hook big clients and add his reputation -- built at taxpayer expense -- to major cases.
The conflict in this is inherent. He's doing it anyway. The state pays him $139,000 yearly -- not a lot for someone who could make tons more privately. But to the people who elected him, it is.
At least he's too crafty not to make full disclosures, unlike others who flout, or mock, even the light requirements.
Contra Costa County Tax Assessor Gus Kramer failed to report properties he owned 33 times between 2002 and 2010, filing amendments only after I found the omissions. But how seriously did Kramer, the county's top real estate official, take reporting his land holdings? Not very. "Let no good deed go unpunished," he scribbled on one amended form about a property deed years after he should have first disclosed it.
Earlier this year, I saw the 2012 Form 700 of Ron Kristoff, a Santa Rose school trustee who received an unusually high amount of pay from his district. He got it through a structured buyout as a teacher before running for office. But he didn't report that the district was still paying him off. He also didn't report that his wife, a teacher, was also paid by the district that he was elected to govern.
California is filled with officials like Kramer and Kristoff who don't know -- or don't care -- what they are required to publicly disclose.
But Californians should demand higher ethical behavior and disclosure from their elected officials, beginning with this: Lockyer either shouldn't join the law firm until his term ends of he should resign now. The rest of us need to work toward ethics laws that bear actual teeth. Very sharp ones.
Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter for this newspaper and teaches public records at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He is also co-chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter, Freedom of Information Committee. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/thomas_peele.