Numerous California lawmakers fly to Maui in an annual Capitol tradition that allows elected officials to talk public policy and schmooze on the dime of Capitol interests without having to disclose their participation until months later - a deadline reached Friday.
Seventeen legislators attended one of two Maui public policy conferences last November, each of which was bankrolled by a nonprofit group, according to newly filed financial disclosure statements. The groups do not identify their donors and have strong ties to former legislators.
The most popular Hawaii conference was the one that offered legislators the most expensive accommodation package as a gift.
The California Independent Voter Project provided up to $2,800 per legislator to attend the event for three or four days at the Kea Lani resort, which describes itself as a "luxurious haven in one of the most scenic places on Earth." The nonprofit group, which is led in part by former Democratic legislator Steve Peace, is backed by various business, labor and other interest groups whose identities are not reported
Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, accepted the largest sum in accommodations from Independent Voter Project, $2,860. Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, reported $2,653; Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway of Tulare, $2,513; Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, $2,491; Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, $2,383; Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, $2,343; Assembly members Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Manny Perez, D-Coachella, $2,298 apiece; Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, $2,179; Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, $2,142; and Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, $985.
Freshman Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, attended the Kea Lani event just days after his election and before he had been sworn into office. He reported accepting $2,602 in accommodations.
Five lawmakers attended a separate November public policy conference, also in Maui, that was sponsored by the Pacific Policy Research Foundation, a group led in part by former Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro Jr. and Sherry Leonard, wife of Bill Leonard, former legislator and Board of Equalization member.
Conference attendees included Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who accepted accommodations totaling $2,416; Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, $1,133; Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, $1,058; and Sens. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Marty Block, D-San Diego, $1,056 apiece.
State law places no limit on travel gifts to a legislator, provided there is a governmental, legislative or policy purpose. Most legislators who participated in the Hawaii trips did not routinely announce their participation, however, and both nonprofit groups declined to discuss attendees at the time.
PHOTO CREDIT: Former Assemblyman Steve Peace, in 2003. Peace now runs the California Independent Voter Project, which sponsors a legislative conference in Hawaii each fall. Sacramento Bee/John Decker