Capitol Alert

Chile, Maui destinations for California lawmakers this month

Spectacular views await dedicated backroads travelers at Kahakuloa Headland in Maui, Hawaii.
Spectacular views await dedicated backroads travelers at Kahakuloa Headland in Maui, Hawaii. KRT

California campaign season has concluded, and the time for legislative junkets – with special interests attending and paying some of the costs – has begun.

One group of lawmakers is currently learning about infrastructure and renewable energy during a trip to Chile. The annual jaunts to study policy in other countries – last year legislators went to Scandinavia – are paid for by a group called the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy that draws money from unions and corporations.

The seven lawmakers on on the trip are joined by representatives of energy companies, environmental groups and labor unions.

“The meetings, briefings and site visits with public officials, industry and utilities executives, and environmental and renewable advocates is an excellent opportunity to share our experiences and better understand the various business models and regulatory options that can help us to achieve our own environmental goals,” spokesman P.J. Johnston wrote in an email.

Lawmakers in Chile are Assemblymembers Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, Henry Perea, D-Fresno, Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, around twenty lawmakers will embark on this year’s iteration of an annual conference in Maui. Organized and funded by a nonprofit called the Independent Voter Project, the event draws substantial funding from pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly and boasts around 80 sponsors that include public employee unions, oil companies, beverage companies and representatives of the health care industry.

“One of the byproducts of the conference is we put Republicans and Democrats together and we make them work together throughout the conference,” said Independent Voter Project spokesman Dan Howle. “We’ve always had bills that were introduced as a result of this conference.”

In addition to interacting with fellow lawmakers, legislators will attend panels on topics that include public safety, healthcare, energy and technology. Various interest groups, from the Western States Petroleum Association to the California Chamber of Commerce to the California Hospital Association, are invited to participate in the panels.

“Our sponsors represent most of the industries that employ people in California,” Howle said.

He said attendees include Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and the two termed out former leaders of the lower house - Assemblymembers John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles and Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

Lawmakers claimed more than $550,000 in travel-related expenses in 2013, according to a Bee analysis, with the trips largely subsidized by foreign governments or by nonprofits and foundations that drew funding from, or had links to, various interest groups and industries.

Gov. Jerry Brown this year vetoed a bill that would have required groups funding such trips to disclose more information about their financial backers. In a veto message, Brown wrote the bill would “add more complexity to the regulations governing elected officials, without reducing undue influence.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.