California lawmakers may let you know who's paying for their exotic trips

SB 21 would require nonprofit groups that give lawmakers free trips to disclose the names of donors

Faced with criticism over lawmakers taking free trips to Hawaii and other exotic locales, the state Senate on Monday approved by a 36-1 vote a measure that would force disclosure of who is actually picking up the tab.

The measure by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) would require nonprofit groups that provide gifts of travel to elected state and local officials to disclose the names of the original donors responsible for financing the trips. The bill also would require lawmakers to annually report the travel destination of such trips.

“Currently nonprofits do not have to disclose the source of travel funding, preventing the public from knowing who is behind the gift to the elected official," Hill told his colleagues before the vote.

State officials accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses as gifts each year.

Last year, they included trips to Spain, Portugal, China, Israel, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico and Canada.

One of the most popular trips is to an annual conference held in Maui by the nonprofit Independent Voter Project, which gets its money from interests including utilities, unions and industry groups. Last year, 25 lawmakers attended the conference, having part of their expense covered by the nonprofit.

There is no requirement that nonprofits disclose donors, but The Times assembled a partial list through interviews of those financing the conference last year, including Occidental Petroleum Corp., the Western States Petroleum Assn., Eli Lilly & Co., tobacco company Altria and the state prison guards union.

The legislation, SB 21, goes to the state Assembly for consideration.

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