Anyone trying to find high-ranking state officials this week might check posh overseas tourist spots -- where many are traveling for free.
About 16 Schwarzenegger administration officials, regulators and state lawmakers are spending spring break on fact-finding missions and conferences in Europe and Japan. The excursions were paid for by tax-exempt groups whose donors include corporations with business before the state, according to itineraries and guest rosters compiled by trip sponsors.
Among the participants are companies regulated by state government.
Winding up a six-day trip to Tokyo is a group of four legislators and two members of the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the energy and telecommunications industries. They were joined by executives from AT&T;, Comcast and a firm that is proposing to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in the port of Long Beach, Sound Energy Solutions.
The entourage stayed at the Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-so, described by Frommer’s travel guide as sporting a “gorgeous glass-enclosed indoor pool surrounded by greenery.... “
On the other side of the globe, about 10 senior Schwarzenegger administration officials, a legislator and state board members with oversight over the environment are completing a weeklong trip to Brussels, Bonn and London.
The nonprofit California Climate Action Registry is paying for the visit, according to some participants. The registry receives donations from utility companies PG&E; and Southern California Edison, along with the energy company BP, among others. Traveling with the state officials were executives from Chevron, PG&E; and other corporations.
“They are often extremely luxurious trips, where, we fear, a lot more lobbying and schmoozing goes on than actual work,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco consumer group.
Under state law, businesses are not permitted to pay for travel by state officials. But officials are allowed to accept travel underwritten by tax-exempt groups such as the ones that provided the trips to Tokyo and Europe.
That’s a loophole in the law, some watchdog groups said.
“It’s money being funneled by a private company through” a nonprofit, said Robert M. Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and a co-author of the state’s 1974 Political Reform Act. “The company gets to go on the trip and have access to the officials.”
The Tokyo trip is being funded by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy. In material sent to participants, the group said the purpose was to study broadband technology and liquefied natural gas.
A number of energy companies pay dues to the foundation. PG&E;, for example, said it paid $40,000 in dues last year. Verizon said it paid $15,000; Sempra Energy Solutions, $30,000.
Participants included Public Utilities Commission members Rachelle Chong and Timothy A. Simon.
AT&T;'s representative on the trip was Ken McNeely, president of the company’s California operations. The day before the trip began, the PUC approved AT&T;'s application for a state license to provide video service in California.
The Tokyo itinerary shows the group arrived Saturday and spent the next day touring the city.
They visited two shrines, said state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), who was reached at her room at the Four Seasons. What followed later in the week were meetings with government officials and businessmen.
“I think it’s worthwhile,” Kehoe said of the trip. “We met ... with the Ministry of Internal Affairs in telecommunications and had a very good briefing on how they rolled out broadband deployment.”
The trip arranged by the Climate Action Registry carried a busy schedule. Guests moved from Belgium to Germany and on to Britain for meetings on global climate change.
State government participants included PUC Commissioner John Bohn and Linda Adams, the governor’s Environmental Protection Agency secretary.
On Tuesday, Adams wrote a blog entry on the state’s website: “It was an action-packed day, but there is no rest for the weary. Last night we flew to London to meet with our colleagues in the UK Government today and tomorrow.”
Nancy Whalen, marketing manager for the Climate Action Registry, did not return calls seeking comment.