State Elected Official Used Tax Dollars to Rent Apartment

State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara charged taxpayers $14,160 during his first six months in office for travel, expenses and to rent an apartment in Sacramento while he maintains his primary residence in Los Angeles, Politico reported September 5.

Lara, who receives an annual salary of $161,342 plus benefits, received monthly reimbursement for “lodging” and “rental” costs ranging from $1,925 to $3,270 from January through June. Billings specified as “railroad fare,” ranging from $570 to $700 per month, were also included. Lara spokesperson Michael Soller said those entries actually “refer to lodging” and were entered in a transportation category because the accounting department “didn’t have a field to enter the lodging reimbursement for this purpose.”

The commissioner’s primary residence is in Los Angeles, where there is an insurance commissioner office, but “he rents a small studio apartment in Sacramento” for $700 a month, Soller said.

The state Department of Human Resources mandates that executive branch employees who are required to obtain lodging due to state business “shall only use commercial lodging establishments such as hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, public campgrounds, or short-term rentals (such as Airbnb) that cater to the general public.”

Soller said lawyers representing the Department of Insurance concluded that Lara’s rental expenses comply with state law because he bills taxpayers only for days spent in Sacramento. The spokesperson additionally claimed that taxpayers are saving money, because Lara’s “true costs for lodging would be higher if he weren’t renting.”

Jessica Levinson, a professor of law and ethics at Loyola University in Los Angeles, said tax dollars should not be used to rent apartments for elected officials.

“For some jobs, you have to move – as millions of Californians will tell you,” Levinson said. “The rent is high, and a good percentage of their salary goes to it – and that’s how it goes. They don’t get the taxpayers to pay for it. And frankly, neither should the insurance commissioner.”

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