The Los Angeles Times reports that California state legislators being wooed by corporate interests and lobbyists at conferences taking place on Maui this winter. More than twenty legislators will be feted at luxury resorts so the corporations can make their pitch, a situation that is raising eyebrows on the heels of several corruption scandals.
The organizers of the conferences argue that the meetings are more productive when out of the glare of local publicity, as Daniel Howle, an executive with pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly, asserted: “Outside the partisan atmosphere of Sacramento, legislators get to know each other, find common ground and return to Sacramento with a commitment to work together.”
Amanda Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Kristin Olsen, who is attending one of the conferences, told the Times that the conference “is an opportunity to talk with colleagues and experts from all parts of the political spectrum about public policy solutions that achieve her caucus’ goals of a better California for all.” Organizers of the conferences agreed and described the purpose as educating legislators about issues facing the state.
But Sarah Swanbeck, a legislative affairs representative of the left-wing California Common Cause, told the paper that the sessions are an “unwelcome tradition…after a year marked by numerous ethics scandals in the state Legislature, voters are looking for lawmakers to fight back against corruption, not participate in it.” She added that she preferred “stricter limits on the travel of lawmakers to these conferences, or an outright ban.”
California Common Cause’s own president, Kathay Feng, who is fighting for tighter restrictions on campaign money, is appearing at a conference of wealthy liberal donors in Washington D.C. described by The New York Times as a meeting of politicos “gathered in Washington for a four-day strategy session, appeared ready to shrug off the drubbing Democrats suffered in the midterm elections last week, instead laying plans for what they hoped would be a long-term resurgence of progressive ideas.”
Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed legislation forcing nonprofits that paid for legislators’ travel to reveal who their donors were.