SHANGHAI On the eve of Gov. Jerry Brown's arrival this week in China, a group of business people, campaign donors and friends assembled for a reception over sushi and roast duck appetizers at the Hyatt Grand Hotel in Beijing.
"Some of you are more, how do we say this strong about going to talk to the governor, and others may not be as strong," John Grubb, chief of staff at the Bay Area Council, the business group organizing the event, told the crowd. "Please try to share time with our governor, so that everybody can get in there to talk to him."
One reason to pay a $10,000 participation fee to travel overseas with the governor, after all, has nothing to do with the country you're visiting and everything to do with business back home.
About 90 delegates traveling with Brown and his senior advisers in China include representatives of the health care, energy and farm industries, all with business interests before the state.
At least 20 of them have contributed money to Brown's political campaigns, and on Friday the Democratic governor oversaw the opening of a foreign trade office in Shanghai that will provide his supporters another opportunity to please.
The office will be privately financed, and the agreement between the state and Bay Area Council to operate it is explicit: An advisory board will be composed of business leaders who are "expected to make annual donations to support the operational costs of the office or will provide equivalent in-kind contributions."
Brown has already benefited from private fundraising for his trip. Delegate fees paid for Brown's travel in business class an upgrade for the governor, who usually rides coach and for the expenses of his staff in China.
"Corporations aren't donating to maintain the (trade) office," said Jock O'Connell, international trade adviser for the economics consulting firm Beacon Economics. "They're donating because they want to curry favor with the incumbent administration."
In China, delegates seek Brown out at receptions, and he stops at their tables to exchange pleasantries at lavish banquets.
"Mayor, mayor, governor," Michael Schmitz, the executive director of a local government association, said as he greeted Brown, the former mayor of Oakland, at a reception in Beijing.
Nancy McFadden, Brown's executive secretary, had just introduced Brown to another delegate, Emile Haddad, whom she called "one of our strongest business people who speaks well of California." A third delegate, a lawyer, was about to connect, too.
"Mr. Governor, Dean Fealk," he said. "It's good to see you."
If Brown is being lobbied he said he is not it is a soft sell. At the trade office opening Friday, former Assemblyman Rusty Areias, now representing the government affairs firm California Strategies, said there are "multiple benefits and incentives" to traveling with the governor.
"We kind of live in that world between corporate activity and the regulatory world, and you know, it's an opportunity for me as a partner in California Strategies to meet a lot of people who might need our services someday," Areias said. "It's also an opportunity to support the governor and an opportunity to help him on something that is important to him."
The trade office in Shanghai is California's first official presence in China since the state closed its 12 foreign trade offices amid controversy in 2003.
Gray Davis, who was governor that year, said that in the "best of all worlds" reopened offices would be publicly financed.
However, he said that in an era of reduced spending the state should welcome private help "if the choice is get it privately financed or not have it at all."
The agreement between the state and the Bay Area Council requires donors to be disclosed and also prohibits any single donor from contributing more than 25 percent of the office's annual budget of about $1 million.
Phillip Ung, of the watchdog group California Common Cause, and Robert Stern, former president of the now-closed Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said a state trade office should be financed publicly.
"If they're making private donations, that means they're going to have influence over what (Brown) is doing," said Stern, who co-authored California's Political Reform Act.
Regarding the delegates' participation in Brown's trade mission, Stern said, "They're going to get some benefit out of it in terms of hopefully some trade with China, but they're also going to get some quality time with the governor."
Brown's meetings with Chinese officials have limited his time with the delegation, but he attends many of their events and stays in the delegation hotel. On occasions in which delegates have enjoyed Brown's company, he has appeared to attend equally to high-profile delegates and low-level staff.
On the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai on Thursday, Brown said no delegate has lobbied him on any issue and that anyone who hoped to do so could just as easily do so in Sacramento no campaign contributions or donations to the charter schools he helped establish in Oakland required.
"I'm easy to get ahold of," Brown said. "This notion that you have to give to my arts school or come on a train I mean, I'm around. I think there's a lot of accessibility. Anybody who wants to build something or do something, I talk to them."
Julie Meier Wright, a San Diego marketing consultant and former Gov. Pete Wilson's top trade and commerce official, said after reviewing Brown's itinerary that it includes an "impressive set of meetings."
"It's way too easy for pundits and others to call these trips junkets," Wright said. "We are in such a global economy that if we aren't paying attention and learning all the time about our counterparts, then we're going to fall behind."
The agenda is heavy on trade and environmental policy, and even the most politically active delegates have spent hours involved in meetings outside of Brown's presence. On Tuesday, Democratic political consultant Clint Reilly could be found in a hotel conference room observing a meeting of nongovernmental organizations and state regulators on environmental matters.
"You're not hanging out playing cards or drinking with the governor," said Susan Kennedy, who was chief of staff to Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kennedy, a delegate on the trip, said the benefit of accompanying Brown on a trade mission is that his involvement opens doors to meetings with Chinese officials that delegates could not secure on their own.
"You're crazy to miss it," she said. "You need the imprimatur of the governor."
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.