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Connie_Conway_SOTS.jpgAt least two groups of lawmakers are spending their spring recess from the Capitol on overseas trips underwritten by outside groups.

Six lawmakers and the president of the Public Utilities Commission are in Poland on an eight-day trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a nonprofit group bankrolled by dozens of donors, including labor, energy, environmental and telecommunications interests.

In a separate trip, a nine-member delegation of the Assembly, including GOP leader Connie Conway, is in Taiwan to promote bilateral exchanges in trade and culture.

Lawmakers took $329,000 in free trips last year, according to financial disclosure statements filed in March.

The Taiwan trip was outlined in a release from Taiwan's government-run Central News Agency. It precedes Gov. Jerry Brown's trade mission to China, which has longstanding strained relations with its island neighbor Taiwan. Brown leaves for China on April 8.

The group includes Conway, of Tulare, and Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. The March 23-29 trip is funded by the government of Taiwan's Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and will include a meeting with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, according to the release.

"With Taiwan serving as California's seventh largest global trading partner, it is important to strengthen cultural and economic ties," said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Conway.

Neither Lockhart nor the Assembly Speaker's office could say which other Assembly members made the trip.

Last year, California exported $6.3 billion to Taiwan, primarily in non-electrical machinery and computer and electronic products, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

On the roster of legislators in Poland are Sens. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblymen Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach; Steven Bradford, D-Gardena; Henry Perea, D-Fresno; and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont.

From the California Public Utilities Commission, President Michael Peevey and Energy Division Director Edward Randolph made the trip, along with California Independent System Operator Vice President Karen Edson.

Others on the trip to Poland include CFEE board members, who represent Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California Power Agency, Southern California Edison, Shell Energy North America, Sempra Energy Utilities, NRG Energy, IBEW Local Union 1245, the State Building & Construction Trades Council, AES Southland, NextEra Energy Resources, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Calpine Corporation, Southern California Pipe Trades, Colorpower, Independent Energy Producers Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The sponsor of the Poland trip, CFEE, arranges similar journeys every year for lawmakers and industry executives. Last year, the nonprofit sent six legislators to Brazil for two weeks. Among the lawmakers on that journey were Bradford and Sen. Michael Rubio, D-East Bakersfield. Rubio resigned last month to take a job at Chevron.

"These are fact finding missions and working trips," said CFEE spokesman P.J. Johnston. "The people involved meet with their counterparts and major players in the country or city they are visiting."

Johnston said Poland is pursuing solar, smart grid and hydraulic fracturing.

"There are a number of significant issues they are grappling with that the state of California is also grappling with and can learn from," Johnston said. "We aim to broaden the horizons of our elected officials, regulators and leaders in industry."

Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he has concerns about trips such as the Poland excursion.

"I'm in favor of overseas trips, but paid for by the state," said Stern, who helped craft the Political Reform Act in 1974. "If its an important trip, then it should be paid for by the state. I think it's important to get out of the state and look elsewhere, but I don't like the idea of special interests paying for it."

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, talks with reporters after Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address at the Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2013. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press



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