Politics

State Lawmakers’ Interest Group-Funded Hawaiian Trip Raises Controversy

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A planned week-long trip to Hawaii by state lawmakers, during which they are scheduled to meet with members of some very powerful interest groups, has triggered outrage in some circles.

More than a dozen California legislators will attend an issues conference in Maui this weekend, hosted by a group that is underwritten by big business and big labor.

“This is not about working; it’s not about learning the issues — it’s about schmoozing,” said Political Science Professor Jack Pitney.

“If they were really serious about learning the issues and deliberating, they’d meet in a place like Rancho Cucamonga. Instead they’re going to Maui. Nobody goes to Maui to work,” he added.

Pitney said that the trip was really about access. The conference is being put on by a group called The Independent Voter Project, which is picking up the tab, estimated to be about $2,500 per lawmaker.

The group is supported by big business, like Southern California Edison and big labor, like the Correctional Officer’s Union.

The reform government group Maplight.org found that the companies and unions that are underwriting the Maui conference also contributed millions of dollars to the campaigns of dozens across the entire in the state legislature.

Maplight said that those contributors expect to get a return on their investment.

“If you look at it from a business perspective, if a company poured $5 million into a factory, what would they expect to make in return? And that is kind of the way that we look at things; what are they doing with this money? You know, they’re not doing it out of a patriotic responsibility, they’re doing it to get something in return,” said Jeff Ernstfriedman, a researcher at Maplight.

Critics charge the image of state lawmakers partying down at a luxurious Hawaiian hotel, being wined and dined by lobbyist, shows certain disconnect with millions of Californians, who are struggling to get through the recession.

“The optics are terrible. At a time when unemployment is high, when people are concerned about insider influence, going to Maui to meet with a bunch of insiders doesn’t look good,” Pitney said.

About half of the attending lawmakers are expected to pay for their airfare through their officer-holder account. The rest will be on the tab of the companies underwriting the conference.

The estimated expense for non-lawmakers attending, who are not getting a freebie – about $6,500.

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