LOS ANGELES - An Orange County, Calif., supervisor is under public scrutiny this week for receiving $2,500 from First Boston Corp. for a 1987 trip shortly after voting to appoint the firm as a financial adviser.
County Supervisor Don R. Roth reported in state-required filings after the trip that he received the money as an honorarium for giving a speech at a First Boston seminar held in New York City. But a Los A ngeles Times article this week raised questions about the trip's propriety, noting that Mr. Roth voted only four months before the trip to approve First Boston as financial adviser for a county jail bond financing.
Carol Thorp, a spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said the $2,500 received by Mr. Roth was not a violation of state law at the time because California had no gift limitations in 1987. "All they had to do was report gifts over $50, and they could accept as much as they wanted," she said. State gift laws changed in 1988 and are now much stricter.
Much of the controversy surfacing in the local press focuses on the possible impression of a conflict of interest. Specifically, the stories target whether Mr. Roth properly characterized the nature of the trip in his state filing, since his "speech" was limited to an audience with First Boston officials. Despite the scrutiny, Mr. Roth does not seem to have directly violated any state conflict of interest laws.
He did not participate in any county decision involving First Boston for a one-year period after receiving the honorarium, as mandated by state law. He did participate in such decisions four months before the trip, and after the one-year period expired, but they did not violate state conflict of interest rules, Ms. Thorp said.
A First Boston spokeswoman acknowledged that the firm gave Mr. Roth $2,500, but said "it was not associated with any transaction."
Instead, the money covered plane fare, lodging, and meal expenses, so Mr. Roth could participate in an internal First Boston seminar, she said. Mr. Roth shared his expertise "on the environment, both political and economic, for public jails," the spokeswoman said.
First Boston would shy away from such honorarium agreements today, Ms. Thorp added, noting that state rules and the political climate have changed. "You have to remember this was 1987. The laws were different and the political climate was different." she said.
Under amendments to the state Political Reform Act that became effective on Jan. 1, 1991, local and state officials must disclose gifts from investment bankers and others of more than $50. Officials must disqualify themselves from a governmental decision if, within 12 months of that decision, they have received $250 or more from an interested party. Gifts of $1,000 or more from a single source within a calendar year are prohibited.
An investment banker who was involved in the 1987 trip said the Times' story makes the trip "look like some kind of bribe."
The banker, who wished to remain unnamed, said Mr. Roth gave a "presentation" to bankers about political issues, such as overcrowding, involved with jail financings. At the time Mr. Roth spoke, he and other county officials were being sued for jail overcrowding in the county, the banker said.
"Very often, we'd invite outsiders with expertise to come and join us, and we'd pay for it," said the banker. "It was because of our relationship [as county financial adviser] that we felt comfortable enough to ask him."
Steven Malone, a spokesman for Mr. Roth, said the supervisor attended the seminar "to chat with executive management." He charged that the Los Angeles Times is "on a rampage to get Supervisor Roth. Why didn't they make this an issue in 1987?"
Mr. Malone said the supervisor's conservative Republican views are "pro-growth and pro-business and inconsistent with the editorial views of the Los Angeles Times."
A Times spokeswoman said she could not comment.