Editorial

California should outlaw junkets like the one lawmakers took to Maui

Priorities for the Legislature should include winning back public trust

Last year, state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon was indicted for fraud, bribery and money laundering; Sen. Leland Yee was indicted for bribery and campaign fraud racketeering; and Sen. Roderick D. Wright was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail for voter fraud. Also, let's not forget, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon was indicted for money laundering and former Assemblyman and state Sen. Richard Alarcon was convicted of voter fraud and perjury.

You might think that in the weeks between the Nov. 4 election and the start of the new legislative session on Dec. 1, state lawmakers would want to work to win back some of the public trust they lost. Or maybe they'd want to spend those weeks in their districts, cementing ties with constituents and spending some precious moments with their own families before beginning the weekly routine of Monday morning flights to Sacramento.

Instead, some two dozen lawmakers took off for Maui for a conference sponsored by an organization that receives its financial backing from companies and unions and other special interests with business before the state, apparently free of any concern about what the folks back home might think of them, or about the ethics and morals that prevail in the Legislature.

Supposedly the trip was to give them an opportunity to do some deep thinking about California's problems, away from the pressures and distractions of the Capitol. That's a laugh. The only pressures and distractions they are leaving behind are the people who elected them.

The organizer is the Independent Voter Project, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group behind the 2010 ballot measure that created California's “top two” primary system. That all sounds very civic. The Times supported that primary reform.

But the project's funders include Occidental Petroleum Corp., Eli Lilly, the Altria tobacco firm, the state prison guards union and the California Distributors Assn., which represents distributors of tobacco and other products. For a week, they will have the lawmakers where they want them — on an island, with their undivided attention, thousands of miles from California voters, taxpayers, reporters and anyone else who might question the special interests' point of view.

No matter how much you like your senator and Assembly member, you wouldn't pay their hotel bills in Maui. Unless, of course, you were expecting something in return.

There ought to be a law against such junkets. But the politicians accepting the trips are the very people who would have to pass such a law. Perhaps, to get their attention, Californians could send them to Hawaii. Or wherever it is that Ronald Calderon and Leland Yee may be going.

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