Legislators Sign Up for Maui Meeting
Trip planned just a week after expected start of special session.
SACRAMENTO â€" At least 20 lawmakers have
signed up to spend three days in Maui attending a
conference sponsored by the state prison guards union just
one week after they are expected to convene in special
session to deal with budget and workers' compensation
The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. will pick
up the tab for meals, said union consultant Don Novey, but
lawmakers are expected to pay for their own travel and
rooms at the Sheraton in Lahaina. Most lawmakers use
campaign funds to pay for such travel.
Last year, at least a dozen legislators attended the same
conference in Maui, three days before the opening of a
special session to close a multibillion-dollar budget
Although the trip is not being fully paid for by the
correctional officers union, one of the biggest donors to
state politicians, Paul Ryan, political reform project
director for the Center for Governmental Studies in Los
Angeles, said the gathering troubles him.
"This is a prime example of some of the state's largest
campaign contributors having more access to lawmakers than
the general public," Ryan said.
The families of incarcerated felons, he said, "would be
hard-pressed to get 10 minutes" with lawmakers to discuss
the prison system.
Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan research center,
called the trip "perfectly legal," because the money that
politicians raise to win elections can be spent on a
variety of legislative or governmental purposes. But it
would be "inappropriate" for lawmakers to take their
families, he said. The lawmakers' ability to pay for the
trip with campaign funds shows how safely the Legislature
has drawn districts to protect incumbents from challengers,
"Since legislators have very little competition they can
use campaign funds for expensive trips such as this and not
have to worry about using the funds for their campaigns,"
Novey refused to say which lawmakers had signed up to
attend the Nov. 24-26 conference.
Last year, most of the Legislature's top leaders attended
the conference. But several attendees from last year
â€" Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte
(R-Rancho Cucamonga), Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox
(R-Fair Oaks) and Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont)
â€" have said they will not attend this year's
conference. Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San
Francisco) has never attended the union gathering but said
he saw nothing wrong with other lawmakers doing so.
Assembly Speaker Herb J. Wesson (D-Culver City) has not
decided whether to attend, said spokeswoman Patricia
Cox said he would spend the days before Thanksgiving with
family. Brulte spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen said the senator
would be too busy working with Gov.-elect Arnold
Schwarzenegger, the Republican who will replace Democratic
Gov. Gray Davis on Monday. Schwarzenegger is expected to
reconvene the Legislature on Tuesday, weeks before its
usual Jan. 5 return to Sacramento.
Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), who attended last year
using campaign funds, will be working at the San Fernando
Valley Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving banquet Nov. 24 and
25, said spokesman Luis Patino.
Many lawmakers probably will stay in Maui through the
weekend, Novey said, to attend the wedding of longtime
correctional officers union lobbyist Paula Treat. She also
represents the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians,
Pacific Telesis Group and Edison International.
As in the past, Novey said, the conference will involve
morning panel discussions, this time covering the recall
election and the state budget. Lawmakers are free in the
afternoon to snorkel, golf, swim and relax.
"You can't keep their attention beyond that," Novey said.
He defended the conference as an opportunity for lawmakers
to build rapport and discuss politics outside of the
Capitol's highly partisan atmosphere.
Last year, a couple of corporations took advantage of the
union conference to confer with lawmakers. Pacific Gas
& Electric Co. spent $84 each on dinners for several
legislators, and drug manufacturer Pfizer Inc. invited at
least a couple of attendees to a dinner that cost $261
each, according to the statements of economic interest that
public officials must file each year.
Coincidentally, a family friend of Schwarzenegger said
Wednesday that the governor-elect had been vacationing in
Hawaii in recent days, even as his transition office
released daily schedules that read: "He will hold private
transition meetings and discussions with members of his
The releases did not mention Schwarzenegger's location. An
aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the
friend's comments late Wednesday. But officially,
Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Karen Hanretty refused to
confirm that the governor-elect spent the weekend in
Hawaii, though she suggested that he and his family were
"There are a number of people throughout the state of
California who understand what it's like to take a little
time for yourself and family, and yet balance that with the
demands of the job," Hanretty said.
Schwarzenegger's office has refused to confirm or deny
reports of his exact whereabouts when he is on family
That had been Schwarzenegger's practice during the
campaign, in which he made undisclosed trips to visit
economist Arthur Laffer and to the compound in Hyannisport,
Mass., owned by relatives of his wife, Maria Shriver.
Times staff writer Joe Mathews contributed to this
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