WAILEA, MAUI (CBS) — A group of California lawmakers spent last week at a luxury hotel, all expenses paid, while attending an issues conference — unaware that CBS2 political reporter Dave Bryan tagged along with a hidden camera.

The politicians escaped Sacramento during a week when hundreds of California college students were protesting massive tuition hikes, thousands of Californians took to the streets to protest corporate welfare and the state announced a $13 billion shortfall.

The lawmakers chose to deal with the issues by spending five days at a luxurious full service resort, more than 2,500 miles away in Hawaii, where somebody else was picking up the tab. They were attending the California Independent Voter Project issues conference, where the state’s most powerful lawmakers were wined and dined in high style by California’s most persuasive special interest groups.

Leaders of the Voter Project say the conference addresses the most pressing problems facing California, aiming to break the lockjam in Sacramento.

But, unbeknownst to the lawmakers and lobbyists,  CBS2 was there with undercover cameras at the 5-star Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel on Maui, where the legislators’ bills are paid by the Voter Project.

Bryan spotted state Senator Ron Calderon, from Montebello, enjoying a free breakfast, along with his brother, Charles, the majority leader in the State Assembly. He also saw state Senator Rod Wright, from Inglewood, walking out after breakfast, on the house. And Assembly Speaker John Perez, perhaps the most powerful legislative leader in California, led the way, partying at an opening night torchlight reception.

breakfast California Lawmakers Treated To Luxury Hawaii Resort By Special Interest Groups

(credit: CBS

They’re all Democrats, but we found Republicans on the Maui retreat too.

State Senator Cameron Smyth, representing Santa Clarita, was also seen walking out by the pool. He made it a family vacation.

And although we didn’t get his picture, Republican state senator Tom Berryhill, from Modesto, was there as well. And Democratic State Sen. Curren Price, from Exposition Park, also attended.

It’s not illegal for California politicians to accept big freebies, like this, as long as it’s being paid for by a non-profit group, like the California Independent Voter Project.

But when CBS2 tried to find out more about what was going on at the conference, our cameras were shut out.

Bryan approached Assembly Speaker John Perez.

“What do you think your constituents would say if they knew you were here, all expenses paid?” Bryan asked.

“Well I think they know that I’m here,” Perez said. “It’s been in the press.”

“We’ve talked about the fact that this is an opportunity for us to come together and have a wide range of coversation on a bipartisan basis.”

The event is underwritten by some of the most powerful companies, labor unions and lobbying interests in California. These lawmakers may have a hard time convincing voters that what they did was in the average person’s interest when they spent a week at a resort, all expenses paid, instead of evaluating legislation on its own merits.

Bryan tried to gain access to the conference but organizers refused to let CBS2’s cameras inside.

So, where does the Independent Voter Project get the money to pay for all this?

It’s funded by 50 big companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron, cigarette maker Altria, Southern California Edison, and big labor groups like the powerful state prison guards union. These are special interests, reformers claim, who espect special favors in return from the state legislators.

“What are people playing their way?” asked Bob Stern, a government reform expert. “Because the people paying their way think they will get something in return. And that is access, informtaion and getting to know these legislators.”

Former state legislator Steve Peace is the leader of the Independent Voter Project.

“Why isn’t the news media invited to this?” Bryan asked Peace.

“You’re here,” Peace replied.

dave bryan California Lawmakers Treated To Luxury Hawaii Resort By Special Interest Groups

(credit: CBS)

“But, we crashed the party though,” Bryan retorted.

Peace said, “What good does it do to have a conference if all the people are going to stand up and talk to the camera? We want people to be candid and open in order for the conference to perform its function.”

Why have it in Hawaii instead of California?

“For the same reson you’re interested in it,” Peace said. “You’re interested in it because they come, and they come.”

In the interview, Peace embraced the fact that the Voter Project is funded in part by special interests.

Reformers said that the dialogue would be better served back in California.

“If Steve Peace is sincere in thinking that what he wants to do is promote dialogue then let’s come on back to California,” said Kathy Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

“If, on the other hand, what this really is is a front for special interests to funnel their money, to gain access to a couple of key legislators, then I cry foul and I think that there needs to be an investigation.”

Feng continued, “It’s outrageous that legislators don’t see any problem with this.”

Comments (44)
  1. Whisky…Tango… Foxtrot says:

    There is no difference between Democrats and Republicans, they are all corrupt. I would encourage everyone to vote these people out and vote Libertarian, maximum freedom, minimum government, for a real change.

    1. ES says:

      How many times can WE the people vote them out? Perhaps we need legislation for this.

      1. tulmon says:

        Voting them out will not work. Just as soon as they get back to D.C. they pick up the same game as everyone else. The only solution is to take ALL money out of politics. And make it a felony is they even accept a lunch. The money is the problem… Instead of everyone fighting about Dem, Reps or ??, we should be fighting to get this simple legislation put in place.

      2. Ron says:

        We need legislation that will REMOVE all opportunities and negative influences for/by the lobbyists. Make it ILLEGAL for ANY LOBBYING. If there has to be a meeting with companies, IT MUST ONLY BE DONE AT the WHITE HOUSE. ABSOLUTELY NO OFFSITE RETREATS, CONFERENCES, etc., NOTHING PAID for by ANY COMPANIES, NON-PROFITS, etc. NOTHING !!!!!

        The politicians WILL NEVER VOTE FOR THIS LEGISLATION, so it must be a BALLOT measure by the PEOPLE and we need to take AWAY any method by which the POLITICIANS or the CORRUPT JUDGES can VOID the WILL of the PEOPLE by lawsuits or challenges.

        WE NEED TO TAKE THE SAME RESOLVE, that the OCCUPY groups have, to the BALLOT BOX.

    2. V says:

      And yet CA will vote these same yahoo idiots back into power. When are people going to stop voting status-quo?

    3. THEY MUST BE STOPED! says:

      MYGOD!! Did you see the video? Our law makers are a bunch of Fat Degusting Slobs!

      1. Ron says:

        That is TYPICAL of ALL UNION BOSSES, too. These guys have gotten FAT off our STOLEN taxpayer money. DO NOT LET ANY POLITICIAN CONVINCE YOU TO VOTE FOR MORE TAXES. It goes straight to the WAIST of these FAT politicians !!!!

        VOTE THEM OUT !!!!

    4. Ron says:

      Prison Guard Union is one HUGE difference. The Democrats are the reason they have so much INFLUENCE. Instead of putting the money they receive for their HUGELY INFLATED PAYROLLS and 5 STAR HOTEL-like PRISONS, we NEED to take the POWER and MONEY away from them and use it for the SENIORS that have paid into Social Security, all their WORKING lives. DO NOT GIVE IT TO THE PRISONERS and CORRUPT UNION PRISON GUARDS !!!!

  2. Frustrated says:

    I hope CBS2 got good ratings off this story. The same amount of viewership you get when you complain that the legislature is too partisan, that they never agree, and that they can’t get anything done because they can’t “get along.” Here is a group of bipartisan legislators taking time out of their holiday season to discuss policy and get to know each other as colleagues and friends and there is the press (also enjoying all Maui has to offer “undercover”) demonizing it. Don’t be foolish, special interests (which we all are in one way or another) always have access to legislators – this conference is not special. But way to try and stifle real policy debate outside Sacramento – they should move the conference to Bakersfield next year so that CBS2 news is not offended by the location. And by the way it is Assemblyman, not Senator, Cameron Smyth.

    1. NOMIK says:

      Absolutely it should be in a place like Bakersfield! What makes you think you are entitled to go on a 5 star vacation to Hawaii on the citizen’s dime? After all, it is we that fund these big corporations when we utilize their products.
      How about Motel 6 lobby next time – in Stanton! That’s where you bums ought to be!

      1. VA says:

        I agree! so go so far when there are plenty of locations nearby. There are Community Centers that allow their facilities to be used. hello??? I could loan them my backyard for their conference. Perhaps then, they could see that we need to stop using citizen’s money.

    2. tt says:

      BTW -it being funded by any project – just amounts to a tax write off in the final end- cheveron gives money to voters project to fund “conference” – cheveron writes it off as a deduction, voters project writes it off…. we still pay….

    3. KOBE says:

      You are no doubt a city employee with your hand in public money.

    4. Ron says:

      I can understand why you are FRUSTRATED, because the people/voters are finally standing up to YOUR B.S. Why don’t you use your REAL name, UNION LOVER or SON/DAUGHTER/WIFE of politician !!!!

      Intelligent PEOPLE/VOTERS, this is your first chance to REJECT the FALSE PROPAGANDA/LIES by the ENEMY. This is what you will get in all future Political ADS by the UNIONS and CORRUPT political groups.


    5. Naomi says:

      Mr or Ms Frustrated – as a political insider who actually understands how the process works (i.e. unlike the other people who have replied to your comment thus far) I get how hard it is to get elected leaders to sit down and talk policy. It is time consuming and you have to be creative. And BTW – everyone who said it is the ‘taxapayers’ who ultimately pay have zero idea what you’re talking about…but I guess believing it is your money being spent on these trips makes you feel better about not being able to go to Hawaii yourself. Stop worrying about who is working in pretty locations and start focusing on elected better people to the legisalture.

  3. Eddie G. says:

    Great video, nice undercover shots. This is one of the best undercover investigations I’ve seen from CBS2.com, my favorite is the David Goldstein LA Public Works dept footage.

    I think the reporter who was covering the story really made a difference in getting the legislators to speak to the cameras, some reporters seem a bit rushed and confrontational, but this reporter was calm, collected and not that confrontational. That seemed to work, nice job guys.

  4. Realist says:

    Remember These Names Mentioned In This Article When It Comes Time To Vote. Once Again, The Taxpayer Has Very Little Leverage In Political Circles Compared To The Aforementioned Special Interest Groups. Yet, These Politicians Are More Than Glad To Abuse Our Tax Dollars For Their Own Special Interests Without Any Regard To The Taxpayer!!

    1. Perspective says:

      OMG – people, stop banging the same drum! Call out taxpayer abuse when it is actually taxpayer abuse – none of the funds spent were from the taxpayers. Even the investigative reporter out enjoying Maui said that in his report!

  5. nomik says:

    If we levy a FAT TAX on these guys it will help to cut the deficit.

  6. ginny says:

    California is one of the top states in budget deficits, we contiue to be more then broke. Jobs continue ot decline, elected officials are supposedly trying to bring work back to the state, yet what state do they attend a conference in? What state benefits from the revenue generated by the conference…………..let me see, oh yes, Hawaii. now thats sound, responsible decision making on all sides.

  7. Oldschool says:

    Why couldn’t they stay in california resort and put the money back into the Cal economy? They will be voted back into office, look at Laura Richardson . . .

  8. tt says:

    “It’s funded by 50 big companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron, cigarette maker Altria, Southern California Edison, and big labor groups like the powerful state prison guards union. These are special interests, reformers claim, who espect special favors in return from the state legislators.”
    I think that pretty much says it all right there – And now we know why
    Ca is broke the rich get richer and everybody else get poorer or doesnt advance….

  9. Kimon Haramis says:

    If the legislators had any class they would’ve told the organization that put this together to hold this conference at a more modest location and put the savings toward a worthwhile cause such as Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, etc.

    1. Ron says:

      If you REALLY believe that THESE POLITICIANS will EVER have CLASS or CARE for the VOTERS or saving TAXPAYER MONEY, then you are TOO DUMB TO VOTE !!!!

      YOU CANNOT ALLOW them to meet with LOBBYISTS at ALL. Make it a FELONY.

  10. tulmon says:

    They should all be fired!

  11. tulmon says:

    Voting in tea baggers or liberty minded people isn’t going to solve any of this! Two things need to happen….. 1. We need to get all money out of politics (on all levels, federal, state, local, etc). Make it a felony if anyone so much as gets a free lunch. and 2. Put our legislature back to part time. They have too much time on their hands cow-towing with lobbyists and eating fat lunches and campaigning. They need to some in, to their work, for us…. and then go home and work at a real job, with their fellow constituents.

    1. Ron says:


  12. Cullen Skink says:

    There wasn’t a single penny of citzen’s tax dollars spent. Try and. Get your facts straight. Also, the CBS news team never requested an interview or made any attempt to contact the conference organizors. The LA Times, the Sacramento Bee and the San Diego Union Tribure requested interviews which were granted. CBS and Dave Bryan are good examples of cheap shot press. Reach a conclusion then build a story to justify it.

    1. tulmon says:

      Does it really matter, when you know the intent of getting them together. You know darned well, they were wined and dined for favors. Again, and I keep saying, money needs to come out of politics. Its time to pass a law that no politician, their families or friends can accept any lobbyist or other money, and make it a felony for doing so, even for a simple lunch. This will then cease all arguments.

    2. Nomik says:

      Yo Cullen,
      Get a clue! You missed the entire point. THis is an ostentatious display of luxury and it’s in bad taste during these times. I don’t care how many interviews were granted; it’s irrelevant. KCBS should be awarded just like LA TIMES was for uncovering Bell scandal. How is this any different? These politicians are supposed to be in touch with reality.

    3. tt says:

      not now, not til its all a write off at the end of the year- and really, Hawaii ? When they could just as easily spent money HERE where people need jobs and they keep complaining about “being broke” then they go spend money somewhere else.??.” Not that Hawaii doesnt need it too – but they should be supporting the economy they live in….and as for their opinoin (conclusion)
      “If it barks like a dog and looks like a dog – its probably a dog”

    4. Ron says:

      Was that a misspelled last name? It must really be SKUNK, because something REALLY STINKS !!!! Again this is another post by the ENEMY.

      DON’T fall for PROPAGANDA.

      It COSTS the TAXPAYERS MILLIONS and MILLIONS because these LOBBYISTS corrupt the politicians into voting for the LOBBYIST’S causes that are more COSTLY to ALL taxpayers. So DON’T try to CONFUSE we INTELLIGENT VOTERS.

  13. Nomik says:

    Here’s your conclusion: Politicians who are supposed to represent their constituents are living the high life in Hawaii. There is your story as well! Wake up!

    1. Seriously? says:

      The idea that a legislator can’t represent their constituents while attending a policy conference that happens to be in Hawaii is a reach.

      1. Nomik says:

        What they did is indefensible. They should not be staying in a 5 star hotel during these times. It’s inconsiderate. Anyone defending them needs to tune-up their ethics.

  14. KEVIN says:

    These politicans do not even care that everyone knows they are currupt. These are the people who need to be dragged out of their office and hanged. Chase them down just like in Egypt. Otherwise they will just help themselves and their freinds and family only.

  15. Greg says:

    So a group of California morons thought it would be a better idea to pump hundred’s of thousands of dollars into the Hawaii economy as opposed to holding their event somewhere in California. Not that I agree they should even be meeting, but if you’re going to spit in the faces of your constituents could you not at least keep the funds in your home State? Worthless Jerk Offs!

  16. Olimpo Orozco says:

    nothing new same old thing

  17. treecat says:

    “Our law makers are a bunch of Fat Degusting Slobs!”

    I liked that……..The number of Fat Politicians in America is unreal…..Sic the wookie on ’em.

  18. Richard H. says:

    What a stupid story…Looks like it was shot with a 5 dollar video camera, and the composition was horriful.Cant beleive this guy Bryant went to hawaii to spy on people..You guys are joke at channel 2..you just lost a viewer…

  19. Rusty Cheeks says:

    corruption plainly

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