By Staff Reporters, ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 9, 2019
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A consumer advocacy group is calling for California lawmakers to immediately disclose their trips to educational events with lobbyists following a report that a dozen legislators were attending an event in Hawaii with utility lobbyists while deadly wildfires raged in California.
The demand Wednesday by Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog looks to ensure the public would know about such trips before they occur. Lawmakers currently must report once a year gifts they receive worth $50 or more, including travel accommodations, on their annual financial disclosure forms.
"These junkets should not occur," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "But if they do occur, they should be disclosed in real time."
He wants the Legislature to change its own rules so lawmakers must post their plans online once they accept an invitation for a trip funded by another organization, along with the names of lobbyists expected to attend and the organizations employing them.
Consumer Watchdog made its demand after the New York Times reported that a dozen lawmakers were attending an event in Hawaii with corporate officials including utility lobbyists while deadly wildfires raged in California last November. The summit at the Fairmont Kea Lani resort on Maui was organized by the Independent Voter Project, an organization co-founded by a former state lawmaker to bring together legislators and executives, and cost $8,000 per person, according to the Times.
The event included officials from Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy, the parent of San Diego Gas & Electric, two of the state's big three utilities. According to the Times, officials from Pacific Gas & Electric planned to attend but backed out after the start of the Camp Fire, which began near the time and place that PG&E reported an irregularity with a transmission line.
Dan Howle, co-founder of the Independent Voter Project, said utilities were only two of 180 participants in the conference.
Howle said he's not opposed to more immediate disclosure of trips, but he scoffed at the suggestion his conference is any worse than the dozens of fundraisers where lobbyists and lawmakers hob nob in Sacramento every week.
"Do you think they need to go to Hawaii to have access?" Howle said. "Here's one of the reasons they do it. It's bipartisan. It's an opportunity to meet outside the politically biased atmosphere in Sacramento. It brings legislators from both parties together. And it's an opportunity to discuss issues when the Legislature is not in session."
Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, said the Senate leader's office is looking into the request. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Kevin Liao, said no decisions have been made. Atkins and Rendon are both Democrats.