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Thursday, April 2, 2009

A $1,220 Coffee Pot for Newsoms May Be Tacky, But Is It Legal? State Law Says -- Yes!

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 7:59 AM

click to enlarge Shake it, determine its value, and record it in your Statement of Economic Interest
  • Shake it, determine its value, and record it in your Statement of Economic Interest
One of the indignities of being an elected public official is that you are required by law to disclose all of your "income" -- which does include wedding gifts. One of the dignities of being our mayor and marrying an actress is that you get really swanky gifts.

The Chronicle has cheerfully released a partial tally of what exchanged hands at the Newsom-Siebel wedding (complete with name-dropping), proving, once again, what Mel Brooks knew all along: "It's good to be the king."

And yet, kings don't have to abide by city-mandated gift contribution limits, as Newsom does. City laws generally limit officials to $420 in yearly gifts from any one source in a calendar year -- has the $1,220 coffee pot Newsom reported receiving on his Statement of Economic Interest percolated him some trouble?

Perhaps not. A gift from a couple to a couple -- say, the $1,000 candlesticks and frame from George and Charlotte Schultz to Gavin Newsom and Jennifer Siebel Newsom -- is broken down four ways. Officially, Newsom received only $250 worth of gifts from each Schultz. That's a neat trick -- but not nearly as neat as those candlesticks, certainly.

And yet, as far as we can tell, state law allows the happy couple to enjoy their candlesticks and frames and decanters in peace. Wedding presents are exempted from scrutiny here in California Government Code Section 89503, and the city ordinance regarding prohibited gifts from restricted sources defers to the aforementioned state code ("gifts exempted from the limits imposed by California Government Code section 89503 ... shall also be exempted from the prohibition set forth in this subsection"). 

What's that mean? It means Mazel Tov, Mr. and Mrs. Newsom, enjoy your expensive gifts in good health -- though the $23,141 party given to you by Charles Schwab still raises our eyebrows. Even Section 89503 allows wedding or birthday gifts only "provided that the gifts exchanged are not  substantially disproportionate in value."

You don't exactly exchange gifts at a wedding -- and the champagne would have to be spectacular (or fill a hot tub) to offset a gift like that. But the coffee pot? You're golden.

Photo   |   Kevin Dooley

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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