Capitol Alert

Cost of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first international trip still unknown 2 weeks later

Two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom returned from his trip in El Salvador, his office says it still can’t say how much his visit cost.

Newsom’s office deferred to the organization paying for the trip, the California State Protocol Foundation, where a representative refused to answer questions on the record.

The nonprofit foundation pays for travel by California governors and is funded through donations made on the governor’s behalf. In the last two years of Jerry Brown’s tenure as governor, the foundation raised nearly $450,000 from interest groups for realtors, doctors, firefighters and others and corporations including AT&T, Microsoft and WalMart.

Governors can request contributions to the foundation through so-called behested payments, which are recorded by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Newsom has not yet reported any behested payments to the foundation on his behalf.

“Consistent with historical practice over multiple administrations, the Protocol Foundation regularly covers the costs of Governor’s Office international travel so that taxpayers don’t have to. To minimize the burden on taxpayers, the Protocol Foundation will carry on this practice for the Governor’s recent trip to El Salvador,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Newsom.

The trip helped build the Democratic governor’s reputation outside California and positioned him as a foil to President Donald Trump, who has threatened to cut aid from Central America. It was also seen as a bold political move in his home state, where Latinos are the largest ethnic group.

Newsom said he took the trip early in his term to investigate the root causes of migration as the United States experiences an uptick in asylum seekers from Central America. Most who flee the region say they leave to escape poverty and violence.

The governor says the trip also laid the foundation for stronger business relationships between California and El Salvador, particularly related to tourism.

The U.S. State Department advises Americans to “reconsider” travel to the country because of high crime rates. But after seeing the country firsthand, Newsom says he feels confident enough about tourists’ safety that he’s comfortable recommending Californians visit the Central American nation, which has world-class surfing.

Newsom told reporters California’s tourism industry could help El Salvador’s burgeoning surfing businesses improve branding and has invited Salvadoran business leaders to the state to court investors.

“Helping stabilize El Salvador directly helps California by mitigating the border challenges, by mitigating migration,” Newsom said during the trip.

He said the trip made him a better educated governor of a diverse state where a quarter of residents are immigrants.

“How do you understand California without understanding all the diverse cultures that make it the most diverse state in the world’s most diverse democracy?” he told reporters while visiting the tomb of civil rights leader St. Oscar Romero in El Salvador’s capital city. “It’s fundamental, it seems to me, to governing a state.”