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Some Calif. lawmakers in Hawaii with lobbyists

November 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Some state lawmakers were in Hawaii Wednesday with special interest groups that are paying their expenses. Should they be mixing business with pleasure while California faces a financial crisis? Critics see a conflict of interest. The state faces big problems, but even as lawmakers are currently in recess, critics say they should be solving those problems, not mixing business with pleasure at a tropical resort.

On the heels of Governor Schwarzenegger calling a special session to tackle part of the state's projected $25-billion deficit, about two dozen lawmakers from both parties are living it up in Maui at the luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani Resort for a conference, hobnobbing with lobbyists and corporate executives.

Airfare and lodging are paid for by the non-profit organization California Independent Voter Project, whose funding comes from the exact interests mingling with those politicians now.

"California has really big problems right now, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, a giant budget problem that we need to be working on right away," said Derek Cressman, California Common Cause. "To be flying to Hawaii, living the life of luxury on the tab of some of the most powerful interest in the state -- the prison guards, PG&E, pharmaceutical companies -- it's just quite appalling and selfish."

The conferences typically talk about things like health care and "green" energy.

Eyewitness News tried calling some lawmakers in Maui but most didn't want to comment or were unavailable.

State Assembly Speaker John Perez's (D-Los Angeles) staff emphasized no state money was used and preparations are under way for Schwarzenegger's special session.

In a statement, a spokesman for Perez said the conference "provides a valuable, bipartisan exchange of ideas on key issues facing our state -- including budget reform, which is one of the main topics at the conference."

To be fair, it is technically recess right now in Sacramento. And most lawmakers don't participate in that Hawaii conference.

Former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber never took part in those annual November conferences in Hawaii because of the conflict of interest.

"It's a problem for the image of the Legislature," said Lieber. "It's something that people don't understand when they're worried about kitchen-table issues, education, and whether or not jobs are going to be around, about what's going to happen with their health care. It's something that makes the Legislature seem out of touch."

The tough thing about the non-profit organizations that sponsor these conferences is that they do not legally have to disclose their donors, who we may never know whether they'll call in favors to those lawmakers in exchange for those very nice trips."


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