Capitol Alert

Moderate Democrats heading to Napa policy retreat

In this Oct. 31, 2013 photo, a view of vineyards from aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train is seen in Napa Valley, Calif.
In this Oct. 31, 2013 photo, a view of vineyards from aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train is seen in Napa Valley, Calif. AP

Fresh off their swearing in, a group of moderate California Democrats will be gathering in Napa next week for a policy retreat sponsored by a nonprofit that has drawn substantial donations from politically engaged business groups.

It will be the latest installment of an annual event put on by the nonprofit California Issues Forum. The goal is to cultivate policy expertise, according to David Townsend, who helped found the nonprofit and directs a political action committee that supports pro-business Democrats.

Townsend said this year’s speakers have not yet been finalized but noted, by way of example, that during dire financial years speakers included a budget expert from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“The subject matter is all over the board. It’s pretty much whatever they think is going to be the issues they’ll have to deal with, we bring in policy people to talk about it,” Townsend said.

Before those policy-oriented talks commence, though, lawmakers will be treated to a dinner attended by representatives of special-interest groups who have a stake in the laws issuing from Sacramento.

“It’s everybody under the sun,” Townsend said. “It goes all the way from health care companies to utilities to professional groups to Realtors.”

Between 12 and 16 centrist Democrats will likely attend, Townsend said. He said he expects a substantial number to be freshmen not yet well-versed in the ways of Sacramento.

“Usually the attendance by the new members is the highest because they’re coming in new and there’s all these issues they have to deal with,” Townsend said.

The event constitutes one link in a long chain of lawmakers going on interest group-sponsored trips, said Sarah Swanbeck, a lobbyist for the pro-transparency group California Common Cause. While the destinations vary, Swanbeck said the intent is consistent: getting close to those in power.

“Peeking even just a little below the surface, it’s easy to see these types of events and conferences afford lobbyists special access to lawmakers, outside of the Capitol, that the average Californian does not get,” Swanbeck said.

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