Gov. Jerry Brown is on a four-day trip to Mexico City to talk to government officials there about trade and immigration issues. That's a reasonable thing for a California governor to do. Brown is not traveling alone: Nine administration officials and 15 legislators (some using campaign funds) are with him. That's probably reasonable too.
But then there are also 88 business executives and lobbyists on the trip, each of whom has paid $5,000 to cover his or her costs, as well as those of the governor and his administrators. That's not so reasonable.
Some of the executives and lobbyists acknowledge they have no plans to extend their business operations to Mexico; they signed up because it made sense to pay for a little quality time with the governor and his senior aides. That sounds an awful lot like buying access, and the governor should know better. If Brown is in Mexico on government business, the taxpayers should pay for it. Having the trip financed by business interests seeking to curry favor is a bad idea.
This is not a practice Brown invented. Gov. George Deukmejian began it in the 1980s and every governor since — Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger — has let private interests pay for their travel. Often the donors were anonymous, the money funneled through nonprofits such as the "California State Protocol Foundation" (although Davis and Schwarzenegger eventually made the donors' names public under pressure). Brown at least has moved the money out of the shadows; his website has posted a list of those who have paid to travel with him.
Among the fellow travelers is an international governmental relations representative for the ride-sharing company Lyft, which has no plans to open operations in Mexico but is fighting legislation back in Sacramento to impose new rules on the service. Gary L. Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, told The Times that he hoped to chat with Brown and his underlings about efforts to revive state tax credits to try to entice Hollywood to keep more work in the state. Hardly the kind of issue that needs to be discussed in Mexico.
The whole idea of having special interests pay the governor's travel expenses is troubling. But it's even worse if they don't have any legitimate reason to be on the trip, and are merely paying for time and special access to lobby the governor.
At best, this practice is unseemly. The governor should create new guidelines limiting the use of private cash to underwrite official business. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish to risk the integrity of the office for the sake of a few airplane tickets.
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