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Twenty California lawmakers are headed to Hawaii resort for conference

Twenty California lawmakers are headed to Hawaii resort for conference
An outrigger canoe paddles past Diamond Head mountain in Honolulu. Hawaii is a popular destination for California lawmakers every November, although they prefer Maui. (Marco Garcia / AP)

Twenty California lawmakers have registered for a six-day annual conference in Maui, where beginning Nov. 15 they will have an opportunity to spend time with representatives of special interests on the golf course and at poolside.

The event at the Fairmont Kea Lani resort, where rooms go for $365 or more a night, has been controversial for years because it is typically funded by businesses and other interests that want something from the Legislature.

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"Those corporations want to curry favor with elected officials," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. "It is simply human nature that lawmakers would feel grateful to those who fund their travels."

The annual conference is sponsored by the nonprofit Independent Voter Project, which gets its money for the event from up to 75 sponsors. Some of the donors send representatives; others do not.

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Last year's sponsors included Occidental Petroleum Corp., the Western States Petroleum Assn., Eli Lilly & Co., tobacco company Altria and the state prison guards union.

Most lawmakers who attend have some part of their travel or lodging expenses covered by the nonprofit, which hosts panel discussions on issues — public safety and energy matters, for example — that the Legislature is likely to face in the coming year.

In past years, the Independent Voter Project has paid an average of $2,500 in expenses per lawmaker. Dan Howle, co-chairman of the nonprofit's board, declined to say what this year's cost would be.

In the face of persistent controversy over lawmakers' attendance at the conference, the Legislature this year passed a requirement that organizers disclose which sponsors send representatives to the event.

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That requirement will not become law in time to affect this year's conference. But Howle said his group would nevertheless comply with it "by publishing this information on our website."

He declined to disclose the names of participating lawmakers and sponsors Tuesday, saying the information will be posted after the conference.

The new mandate will help the public judge lawmakers' participation in the yearly event, Levinson said.

"Transparency arms the public with information that they can use in evaluating the propriety of lawmakers' travel," Levinson said. "Transparency may also serve as a deterrent against future bad behavior."

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