California lawmakers head to Hawaii, Australia for post-election events
With the election over, at least 20 California state lawmakers, including some newly elected members, have scattered to exotic locales, including Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and China, for state-related conferences and trade missions.
Fifteen lawmakers are attending a five-day conference, which runs through Thursday at the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel in Maui, hosted by the Independent Voter Project, a policy group that pays some of the legislators' expenses. The group has received financing in recent years from business and labor interests including cigarette maker Altria, Southern California Edison, Eli Lilly and Co., Pacific Gas & Electric, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn., Chevron and the state prison guards union.
Group spokesman Dan Howle declined to identify the legislators attending but said they include some newly elected members and some current ones, including a few who are leaving office next month because of term limits. Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare are among those attending, the Times has learned.
Howle said panel discussions will be held daily on issues including energy, economic development, healthcare and telecommunications.
"In addition, there will be a session on the impact of Citizen's United, Super PACs, and the cost of campaigns," Howle said in an email, adding that the group is working on a proposal that would ban contributions to legislators and the governor while the Legislature is in session. A separate nonprofit group, the Pacific Policy Foundation, is hosting eight lawmakers, including Assemblyman Marty Block of San Diego, at a separate Maui conference beginning Thursday.
Although the Independent Voter Project is nonpartisan, ethics groups criticize the annual conference because it allows lobbyists for special interest groups access to California lawmakers out of the state. "They have obviously convinced themselves that the people’s business is best solved poolside with mai-tais in hand," said Phillip Ung of California Common Cause. "These trips need to be banned once and for all."
Meanwhile, the Senate Office of International Relations is coordinating a 13-day trip through Nov. 20 to Australia and New Zealand, attended by Sens. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord). The lawmakers pay their own airfare, and foreign government agencies are paying some of the ground transportation and meal expenses for the trip, which is aimed at improving trade and government relations between the countries, said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for the Senate.
Another state delegation, including Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) has left for China.
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento
Photo: The beaches of Hawaii beckon for California lawmakers attending a conference funded by special interest groups. Credit: Marco Garcia / For The Times