It doesn’t really matter what you call the trip to Cuba that California Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins and a passel of legislators and staff are planning for next week. Trade mission or junket or learning expedition, it all equals the same thing: a chance for lobbyists to spend a little quality time with, and money on, the state’s lawmakers.
Next week is spring recess for the state Legislature, and that historically means some legislators heading off to an exotic locale.
This year, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon is leading his own international trip. He will go to Tokyo with Senate minority leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), and one staffer from the Office of International Relations. There is no sponsoring organization, according to De Leon spokesman Anthony Reyes.
The nonprofit "partnering" on Atkins’ trip, Californians Building Bridges, has close ties to one of Sacramento’s most active lobbying firms, Platinum Advisors. Platinum's president, Darius Anderson, is on the organization's board and listed at the nonprofit’s principal officer in federal tax records.
I haven't yet received an explanation what it means to be a partner on a trade trip, but tax records from 2013 show that the nonprofit spent about half a million dollars taking people to Cuba, which sucked up most of its revenue that year.
The other four members of the Californians Building Bridges board include another Platinum lobbyist Holly Fraumeni, lobbyist, Jim Bruner of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, consultant and former state Sen. Kevin Murray, who is a principal at the Murray Group, and the organization's president Jennifer Davis.
Platinum represents all sorts of companies, which anyone can peruse on the secretary of state's Cal-Access site -- AT&T and DirecTV, industries like beekeeping and gambling, and even local government, all of which have a big stake in state policy.
Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno will lead the trip with Atkins. They will be accompanied by Assemblymembers Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Jose Medina (D-Riverside), Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield) and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond).
The ostensible reason for the trip is to "establish relationships with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses and to explore the various options for collaboration on matters of mutual benefit for California and Cuba," according to a press release.
To their credit, this is no super-cush poolside trip. Cuba might have once been a land of tropical resorts, and it probably will again one day in the near future now that the U.S. is normalizing relations with the country. But for now, it's an island still suffering from decades of economic isolation. Tip to legislators and others on the trip: Pack some granola bars; there's no 7-Eleven.
Follow me on Twitter @MarielGarzaLAT