By Tibby Rothman and Jill Stewart

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that he has found — and on Friday will release — five years worth of documents showing who gave him free seating, tickets, meals, liquor and parking for dozens of sports and cultural events that L.A. Weekly estimates are worth $50,000 or more.

Until today, the mayor claimed he didn't have or didn't know where the records of these extensive gifts were.

Villaraigosa was defiant, saying he will continue to attend splashy events because he is promoting the city. (Other California big-city pols don't behave this way, our Weekly story on the stands today found.)

He spun the last few days as a major effort on his part to get to the truth: “It's five years' worth of documentation. You have to go through boxes and boxes!”

Villaraigosa faces a major legal hurdle if “promoting the city” is his explanation for taking scads of free tickets and ignoring anticorruption laws . Here's why:

Most media stories focused on whether Villaraigosa was going to claim he was exempt from ethics laws because he presented ceremonial scrolls or gave a short speech at many events. Michael Linder has great details at KABC here.

However, the mayor appears to be directly challenging the laws on the books, by saying that his mere presence is enough to exempt himself from the city and state gifting laws and ethics rules.

“I am in the job of promoting our city,” he argued today.

According to Fair Political Practices Commission Executive Director Roman Porter, that's not a legitimate reading of California law.

Porter says of California's statewide ban on politicians' accepting more than $420 in gifts per source per year:

“The state rules require a public official to perform a duty on behalf of [their city]. Merely being a public official is not enough to use this exception.”

LA Weekly