California lawmakers head to Maui for annual retreats

California lawmakers are headed to twin conferences in Maui.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers are packing their bags for their annual migration to the beaches of Maui starting Wednesday, where two conferences will be held sponsored by nonprofits backed by special interest groups.

A group called the Pacific Policy Foundation is holding a conference starting Wednesday in Maui to be attended by an unknown number of lawmakers.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare is the highest ranking of 16 California lawmakers scheduled to attend a separate five-day conference beginning Nov. 17 at the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, also on Maui.


The tab for lodging, receptions and conference events is picked up by the Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit policy group whose financial supporters have included Chevron, cigarette maker Altria, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn., Lilly USA, LLC and the state prison guards union.

“It gives the sponsoring companies an opportunity to talk about what their business is like in California,” said Dan Howle, a Lilly USA executive who organizes the event. Panels including lawmakers and business people will be held on issues of healthcare, public safety, biotechnology, economic development and energy, including fracking, he said.

In between panel discussions, lawmakers can play golf, snorkel and enjoy the Hawaiian resort.

Howle said rules of the conference include a ban on lobbying lawmakers and on discussing specific bills. But good-government activists have criticized the annual retreat, saying the hobnobbing between lawmakers and special interests creates the perception of undue access to legislators by those with money.

“This special interest-sponsored trip continues to be an unwelcome tradition for voters and shows just how out of touch policymakers are when it comes to government ethics,” said Phillip Ung, a spokesman for California Common Cause. “Voters want public officials to end corruption, not participate in it. Unfortunately, 16 legislators still haven’t gotten that message.”

State Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) has been a regular at the Independent Voter Project event but does not plan to attend this year. He is the target of an FBI corruption probe that surfaced when agents raided his office in June.


“He called three weeks ago and said he did not want to be a distraction by attending,” Howle said.


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