The price of access is going up for top donors attending this weekend's Pro Tem Cup at San Diego's Torrey Pines Golf Course, an annual golf outing held to raise cash for the California Democratic Party.
Contributors looking to spend some quality time with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg this weekend can expect to pay up to $60,000 -- a $10,000 increase from recent outings, according to this year's invite and event listings from 2011 and 2008.
The top "Two Day Platinum" price includes golf for four on Friday and Saturday, an evening with Steinberg, two nights accommodation, attendance at an awards BBQ and "commemorative gifts," according to an invitation. The "Two Day Gold," which includes the same access for two people, spiked $5,000, to $45,000 this year.
Prices for the cheaper packages, which start at $10,000 for golf for one on Saturday, one night's stay, the awards BBQ and gifts, remained steady. Spa packages are available for interested parties who don't want to golf.
The increased ticket price comes as Senate Democrats prepare for major battles in several swing districts where victory could mean securing a two-thirds majority in the upper house. Those targeted races, including the Stockton-area 5th Senate District, are expected to be costly battles.
The fundraiser, which starts tomorrow, is sponsored by cable industry interests, including the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, declined to comment on details of the fundraiser, including package prices, ahead of the event.
The situation raised concerns for a representative of one group promoting transparency in state politics.
California Common Cause's Phillip Ung said he's "not surprised that the price tag has gone up because the stakes are higher" after last year's redrawing of political district maps. But he said the off-site weekend fundraisers provide a level of access that allow legislators and moneyed interests to build a "cozy relationship that should make some voters cringe.""
"It's unfortunate that to win tough races they have to raise so much money from those who wish to influence them," he said.
Steinberg said while he thinks the current campaign finance process is a "lousy" system, raising the money to support his members and candidates on the ballot is "part of my responsibility as a leader." He said the money raised this weekend will be "a good start on our 2012 effort."
"I don't like this whole system, but I'm highly motivated and my caucus is highly motivated to get a two-thirds super majority," he said. "In order to do that, it takes raising money.
The Sacramento Democrat downplayed the question of influence, saying "practically every day I have to look at supporters and say on this issue I disagree with you and I will continue to do that."
"In terms of access, my door here is, I'm busy and my calendar is kind of lousy, but my door is open and I see people all the time, from all walks of life," he said, noting constituent meetings at the farmer's market. "You don't have to have big influence to come see me about most anything."