The state Assembly and Senate released current member-by-member spending records Friday, less than one month after the lower house denied public access to the data.
The action is a concession that taxpayers have a right to see up-to-date breakdowns of how funds have been spent through July, rather than year-old statistics that typically are released each November.
But the data released Friday provide a cloudy picture of expenditures. Key documents remain undisclosed, and those released make it difficult to see how spending is bolstered for those serving in leadership positions.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, for example, is listed as having member expenditures of $225,939, relatively low for the Assembly. But other portions of the multipage records list speaker's office expenditures of $373,206 and spending for the Democratic Caucus, which Pérez leads, at $6.7 million.
Friday's fiscal disclosures come less than a month after The Bee and Los Angeles Times filed suit against the Assembly after it balked at releasing current office records, citing an exemption in legislative public-records law for correspondence, notes, memoranda and preliminary drafts.
The Senate, working to comply with a similar request, also released data Friday. Pérez, who last week created a task force to study updating Assembly disclosure policies, said in a written statement that he decided to release up-to-date spending data immediately rather than to wait for the group's recommendations before next year's session.
"I believe that we can take steps now to increase the accessibility of information as to how the Assembly operates," Pérez said.
Unlike documents distributed to Assembly members, however, the information released publicly does not pinpoint precisely how much each lawmaker has to spend this year or whether projections show that person with a surplus or deficit by year's end.
"It sounds to me like they're trying to put out enough information to give the appearance that they're being candid and transparent, while holding on to the information that is actually important and sensitive," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a free-speech advocacy group.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, sparked controversy over office budgets last month by claiming that his was slashed by Pérez as punishment for casting the lone Democratic vote against this year's budget.
When Portantino, The Bee and other media outlets filed public-records requests for current office records for all 80 members, the Assembly balked, saying disclosure is not required under the state Legislative Open Records Act.
Portantino characterized the Assembly records released Friday as an "April Fools' joke" that hide "true and accurate accounting of staff budgets and complete expenditures."
"I think it's purposely misleading information," he said. "They should be ashamed of themselves."
Here is an example of how the documents can be confusing, even if accurate:
Portantino is listed as the highest-spending Assembly member at $297,580, followed by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, at $293,737.
By contrast, freshman Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat, is listed as having just $181,255 in member expenditures, but that figure does not include a $136,842 augmentation for serving on the Rules Committee, which was listed elsewhere in the report and raises his total to $318,097.
In the Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was charged with $421,951 in member expenditures, much less than many others.
But his Democratic Caucus' spending exceeded $1.2 million, and the Senate did not provide a breakdown of 2011 expenditures charged specifically to his pro tem duties a figure that exceeded $3.8 million last year. Steinberg did not comment Friday.
Both the Assembly and Senate released member-by-member office expenditures for staff salaries, travel, vehicle gasoline and maintenance, telephones, postage and various other expenses, including fliers and other communications to constituents.
Wide disparities exist among legislative colleagues in some spending categories in the Senate, for example, Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, is listed as the highest spender for duplication services at $18,312, while Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, ranks at the bottom with $1,765.
The numerical data, posted without fanfare onto the Assembly and Senate websites at 4 p.m. Friday, contained no explanation for the differences.
The Assembly released spending data for 2010 and 2011, while the Senate website carried data only for 2010. Separately, the Senate responded to public-records requests by The Bee and other media by releasing 2011 statistics through July.
The Assembly and Senate have $146.7 million and $109.4 million, respectively, to spend during the current fiscal year. They have distinctly different ways of allocating that money among members, judging from office records released recently by a handful of Assembly members and an interview with Greg Schmidt, Senate secretary.
Assembly records show that each member receives a base allowance of $263,000 per year, which typically is augmented for chairing committees or other reasons.
The bottom line is that each Assembly member has a designated sum to spend and monthly projections are made as to whether lawmakers are meeting or exceeding their budget. Those budgets were not provided.
Senators, by contrast, do not have a specific dollar limit that they cannot exceed in running their offices, Schmidt said.
Senate funding is largely formula-driven: Members are entitled to a basic staff of eight to 10 aides with a salary range for each job. They receive $15,000 annually for mailings and a monthly block grant of $2,000 for incidentals. Travel, car leases and other expenses are handled by the Rules Committee, officials said.
Senators can bolster their staffs if they are named to chair one of several dozen part-time select committees to study issues ranging from horse racing to the wine industry. Senate records released Friday did not identify the extent to which particular legislators have benefited.
Though it does not produce a monthly tally sheet projecting deficits or surpluses for all 40 members, the Senate's system for allocating resources provides central accountability through the Rules Committee, officials said.