At least a dozen California lawmakers repaired or upgraded their state-provided vehicles at taxpayers’ expense in the final weeks before the one-of-its-kind perk was ending, then later bought those vehicles for personal use.
The improvements ranged from cosmetic changes such as fixing dents and replacing wheel covers, to getting tires, multipoint inspections and new parts such as fuel pumps that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Some had the vehicles they would soon buy inspected at no cost to them, while others had last-minute work done under warranty, according to state maintenance records obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests.
Officials at the state Senate and Assembly said they did not ask lawmakers to have their vehicles repaired or upgraded before the state put them up for sale to independent dealers a year ago.
“Essentially what they did was get all their repairs done on the state’s dime before they bought it,” said Philip Ung, a spokesman for the government watchdog group Common Cause.
The sale was the last step in ending a program dating to the 1950s that had been criticized as an unreasonable benefit for legislators who in recent years have slashed the state’s social services safety net to stem billion-dollar budget deficits.
Of 64 lawmakers who had state-financed repairs after the commission’s decision, 37 purchased their vehicles. That includes 16 of 18 senators and 21 of 46 Assembly members.
Many sought routine maintenance, such as oil changes, that accounted for a portion of the more than $78,000 the state spent to repair, clean and upgrade the state-provided vehicles in the final nine months of the program.
Others did much more shortly before the sale, according to the documents. The AP also paid for records from the Department of Motor Vehicles to help determine which lawmakers had bought their vehicles.
Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, had $5,984 worth of repairs. He had a dent in the rear bumper fixed, the power steering and brakes replaced, and a detailed cleaning performed on a 2005 Chevy Tahoe between August and November 2011.
Much of the work was done seven weeks before the vehicle was sold to a dealer for $11,000 in December. The former Senate minority leader bought it for $12,681 in campaign funds as he prepared to leave office for an unsuccessful bid for Congress this year.
Gary Winuk, chief of the Fair Political Practices Commission’s Enforcement Division, said Dutton’s use of campaign money raises legal issues because the vehicle was re-registered to Dutton as an individual instead of to his campaign committee.