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