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California bill would ban fundraising bashes at lobbyists' homes

By Jennifer Chaussee

(Reuters) - Battered by scandals, lawmakers in California on Monday moved forward on a bill banning lobbyists from throwing lavish fundraising parties at their homes for candidates and elected officials.

The bill, which passed the state senate unanimously, is one of several measures introduced in the wake of the scandals, which include criminal indictments against two senators, the conviction of a third and fines by the state's political ethics watchdog against a fourth.

"The public deserves more transparency in political practices, and this measure is a crucial element in a wave of important reforms," said Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, of Sacramento.

The legislature's approval rating has fallen since the scandals began in January with the conviction of Democratic Senator Roderick Wright for perjury and voter fraud after prosecutors said he did not live in the Los Angeles area district he sought to represent.

The following month, Democratic Senator Ron Calderon was indicted on federal corruption charges and in March, Democrat Leland Yee of San Francisco was indicted on corruption and gun-trafficking charges.

"I did not expect that these sorts of issues would dominate my last year in what has been a really great run," said Steinberg, who has backed several reform bills since the scandals began piling up, including limits on gifts that lawmakers can accept, and tightened campaign finance and disclosure laws.

His signature legislative goals, including a plan to offer free access to nursery schooling for four-year-olds in the state, have to a degree been overshadowed by the need to respond to the ongoing scandals. But the longtime lawmaker said he will now leave a legacy of reform.

Steinberg and Democratic Senator Kevin de Leon, who will take over as senate leader after Steinberg leaves office later this year, have proposed prohibiting senators from raising money during the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Steinberg also required senators to attend a day-long ethics training, and suspended the three criminally charged senators with pay.

The scandals, however, persisted. Last week, Steinberg fired a Senate peace officer after it was discovered he had taken marijuana and cocaine the night he had been involved in an off-duty gun fight. He also accepted the resignation of the Senate's long time sergeant-at-arms, who admitted to knowing about the peace officer's drug use.

The bill passed Monday was introduced after dozens of officials received letters from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission questioning fundraising parties thrown by lobbyists and ultimately fining one advocate a record $133,500.

(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Miral Fahmy)

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