The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento area officials lobby for region -- and dine well

Published: Sunday, May. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 5, 2013 - 11:43 am

Local politicians, lobbyists and business leaders from the Sacramento region fly across the country each year to meet federal officials – and eat at some of Washington, D.C.'s, best restaurants.

The most common gifts last year reported by the region's county supervisors were the dinners, drinks and artwork they received at the Sacramento Metro Chamber's Capitol-to-Capitol event.

The Public Eye reviewed gifts received by the 20 supervisors in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties, as listed in economic disclosure forms filed earlier this year with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Two supervisors in Sacramento County and three in Yolo County attended Cap-to-Cap last year.

They dined and drank at restaurants such as Charlie Palmer Steak, Washington City Club and Occidental Grill & Seafood, "a gathering place for the nation's political power brokers, sports figures and celebrities."

Sacramento County supervisors Phil Serna and Susan Peters billed the county for airfare and hotel costs – $3,000 for Peters, $3,500 for Serna.

Yolo County Supervisors Mike McGowan, Donald Saylor and Jim Provenza also billed their county for airfare and hotel.

The chamber touts Cap-to-Cap as a "premier advocacy program" that helps the Sacramento region secure federal support for important issues such as health care and flood control.

"As unusual as it may sound, it's more about going 4,000 miles across the country to get to know people who live in this region," Serna said.

The event also gives business interests extended access to local officials with responsibility for key issues.

Supervisors reported gifts valued at $2,212 during the five-day trip.

With one exception, the gifts came from lobbyists, health care providers and developers with business before the county boards, records show.

For instance, Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health held dinners that included Serna and Peters. Kaiser and Sutter have joined with the county to start a low-income health care program.

Teichert, a mining and construction company seeking to build a large development on West Jackson Road, also held a dinner that included the two supervisors.

Sacramento attorney Greg Thatch hosted a dinner at the Washington City Club that was also attended by Serna and Peters. Thatch often represents developers before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, most recently on the controversial Cordova Hills project the board approved earlier this year.

Thatch said he sees nothing inappropriate about paying for the dinners of elected officials, as they're just some of the approximately 140 people who received the complimentary meal.

Serna noted that the dinners include a wide range of people, from environmentalists to developers.

He has gone to Cap-to-Cap all three years he's been a county supervisor, and several years before when he worked as a private development planner.

He said the free dinners have no influence on his work as a supervisor. The best evidence: He was the only supervisor to vote against Cordova Hills, he said.

Serna picked up a memento from last year's Cap-to-Cap: A canvas artwork depicting a band made up of him, McGowan and others, playing R&B for the contingent in D.C.

The gift from public relations specialist Lucy Eidam Crocker is valued at $200 and highlights "Phil and Mike's Excellent Adventure."

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

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