Inside California lawmakers’ paid trips to Maui

Credit to : The Sacramento Bee

The California Independent Voter Project’s annual conference has once again arrived at this $360-a-night hotel on Maui’s southwest shore, bringing together 21 lawmakers and dozens of corporate sponsors for five days of policy discussions and schmoozing.

Ditching suits and ties for shorts and polos, attendees rotate through morning panels covering subjects such as drug buyback programs and the digital divide in poor households. Hawaiian shirts are in disappointingly short supply. During open afternoons, they are free to relax and explore the island, often with spouses and children who have tagged along for the week.

This type of travel is nothing new for California legislators, who have been venturing overseas for decades on the dime of business groups, labor unions, foreign governments and their campaign donors. Just this year, the state Senate led study trips to Japan, Mexico and Australia, while more junkets went unannounced.

Yet the Independent Voter Project conference, with its luxurious Hawaiian setting, has become something of a lightning rod for criticisms about the cozy relationship between lawmakers and special interests.

“Nobody thinks you’re going to Maui to learn things,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “If the purpose of the trip were to educate lawmakers about the problems of California, they would go to Fresno.”

The Independent Voter Project provides legislators an average of nearly $2,500 in airfare, hotel rooms and food to attend the conference. Last year, it spent $55,503 to bring 20 members to Maui, according to financial disclosure statements filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission. A few pay their own way or use campaign funds for the trip, and they must cover the cost of taking their families.

Meanwhile, sponsors pay $7,500 to participate, gaining intimate access to a full sixth of the Legislature that will soon be voting on bills affecting their industries.

Some groups spend more. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the Western States Petroleum Association, FedEx and AT&T were among those who collectively paid $7,190 last year to wine and dine lawmakers at private dinners and receptions.

Attendees, who fill 125 rooms at the Fairmont, say the conference provides an opportunity to get away from the Capitol bubble and develop connections beyond the transactional nature of day-to-day policymaking. The relaxed atmosphere, they say, also allows them to consider issues more broadly than the specific changes proposed in bills.

The lobby bar, bridging the airy atrium foyer to a central courtyard with three pools and a rolling view down to the ocean, becomes a favorite gathering spot. On any given evening, lawmakers and corporate representatives chat late into the evening, long after the in-house musician has packed in his acoustic guitar covers of “The Girl From Ipanema” and Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

“It opens the door for relationships,” said Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, who said he also planned to spend time with a daughter who lives in Hawaii. “If that makes us better legislators, then I don’t see the problem.”

Founded in 2006, the Independent Voter Project is a nonprofit that promotes a less polarized, more centrist approach to governing by empowering nonpartisan voters.

Backed by corporate donors such as the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., as well as wealthy individuals like businessman Charles Munger, IVP runs a news site and was behind the 2010 ballot initiative that gave California its top-two primary system.

The conference began seven years ago as a fundraiser for the then-relatively new group, board chairman Dan Howle said. A veteran of similar Maui confabs that have dotted the California political calendar for decades, he chose the beachside setting to draw in participants: “It’s my hook.”

But Howle said his goal is ultimately to help fix a “completely horrible” legislative process, where discussions are reduced to two-minute sound bites from opposing sides at a committee hearing and there is little opportunity for learning.

Each year, he invites a bipartisan list of members, chosen for him by one Democrat and one Republican lawmaker, to participate in a series of interactive 90-minute sessions moderated by groups like the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, the California Business Roundtable and the Civil Justice Association of California.

Though the lineup is heavy on business interests – Howle said he is trying to convince SEIU to come next year – he hopes disagreement among members on the information presented will get them talking and then collaborating back at the Capitol.

“When I retire in a few years, I want to have had a small part in making the Legislature better,” Howle said.

The Independent Voter Project has made a huge investment in that goal: Over the past five years, it spent more than $184,000 bringing 75 lawmakers to the conference, according to financial disclosure forms. Many of them are repeat visitors.

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, has attended every conference since 2010. Not including this year, he accepted $13,662 in travel expenses from IVP along the way, as well as $2,375 worth of gift meals and golf fees from groups like the prison guards union, PG&E and Prime Healthcare Services.

During that same time, Wright, Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, former Sen. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, and former Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, all made four appearances. Perez is now a member of IVP’s board of directors.

Another 14 lawmakers took multiple trips to Maui, including former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, and the Calderon brothers, Ron and Charles.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, said her focus was on jobs, and meeting people who might be able to bring resources back to her “very poor district.”

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, declined to discuss his participation as he headed off to his room for the night.

Full Article: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article45406533.html

Benefits of Public Financing

Brennan Center For Justice - Laura Moy, Marcus Williams

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC,[2] a torrent of money has flowed into American elections. The 2010 elections that followed Citizens United were among the most expensive in our nation’s history. Total spending was an estimated $3.6 billion[3]—an amount expected to rise dramatically in 2012. As the level of money involved in our elections steadily escalates, there is increasing concern about the ways that heightened campaign spending can purchase favorable policy outcomes.

Among the most vital tools to combat the corrupting influence of outsized campaign spending is public funding of elections. For more than three decades, public financing programs at the federal, state, and municipal levels have served, in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, “as a means of eliminating the improper influence of large private contributions . . . .”[4] Since the 1970s, federal courts have consistently relied upon the compelling governmental interest in curbing corruption in upholding public financing systems from constitutional challenge.[5]

But in June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of Arizona’s public financing system. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the court declared that Arizona’s so-called trigger funds—additional public grants made available to a publicly funded candidate facing high opposition spending—burdened the First Amendment rights of those who opposed publicly funded candidates.

While the latest Supreme Court ruling will force changes to Arizona’s public financing system (and other systems with similar trigger provisions), it contained a crucial silver lining for advocates of campaign finance reform: The Court affirmed the overall constitutionality of public financing. In unambiguous terms, the Court made clear that “governments may engage in public financing of election campaigns and . . . doing so can further significant governmental interests, such as the state interest in preventing corruption.”[6]

As advocates and policymakers seek to respond to the growing levels of spending in elections by shoring up existing public financing systems and adopting new ones, it is crucial that they highlight the time-tested anti-corruption interests that public financing advances. They should also note several other benefits that flow from public financing.

Publicly funding elections promotes numerous benefits in addition to fighting corruption, all of which bolster the case for public financing. By focusing exclusively on the significant anti-corruption benefits of public financing, advocates have sometimes overlooked these other ways that public funding programs enhance the legitimacy of government. Funding programs do not only reduce the opportunity for corruption and strengthen our perception of government; they also promote contested and competitive elections, foster diversity in the electoral process, and encourage voter-centered campaigns.  

For Full Article : https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/more-combating-corruption-other-benefits-public-financing

NEW REPORT CARD GRADES STATE LEGISLATORS' VOTING RECORDS, LISTS 9 LEGISLATORS IN HALL OF SHAME

(Credit to CourageCampaign.org)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

May 4, 2017

Contact: 

Brett Abrams | brett@unbendablemedia.com | (516) 841-1105

2017 People’s Report Card of California Grades State Legislators' Voting Records, Holds Them Accountable for Not Representing Progressive Policies In Their District

Second Annual “Courage Score” Report Card Names Asm. Daly, Asm. Frazier, Asm. Cooper, Asm. Baker, Asm. Chávez, Asm. Steinorth, Sen. Dodd, Sen. Glazer and Sen. Nguyen To Hall of Shame

Courage Campaign/ACCE Action Report Card Shows Major Statewide Improvement in Legislative Voting Records, Urges Even More Progressive Policies in 2017 

CALIFORNIA - Today, the California-based Courage Campaign, in partnership with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, released its second annual People’s Report Card of California, a website that grades California’s legislators on how they voted on critical bills prioritized by the progressive movement in California, evaluating whether or not elected officials accurately reflect the values of their constituents. Those who do not reflect those values are featured in a Hall of Shame while those who scored top marks are included as “Progressive All-Stars.”

The website, CourageScore.org, allows all Californians to see their state representatives’ “Courage Score” on a scale of 0-100, along with a corresponding letter grade. The Courage Score is a rating of each legislator’s willingness to stand up for their constituents against corporate benefactors and wealthy special interests that dominate California politics.

VIEW THE WEBSITE HERE: http://www.CourageScore.org

For the second year in a row, Courage Campaign is the only progressive organization that has tracked and rated legislators across a broad range of issue areas: from racial justice, to health care, to the environment, to workers’ rights, to consumer protections and more.  The scorecard is endorsed by 18 Million Rising, California Immigrant Policy Center, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, California Reinvestment Coalition, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable California (CAUSE), Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), Communities for a New California, CWA District 9, CWA Local 9421, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote Action Fund, MoveOn.org, MPower Change Action, National Union of Healthcare Workers, Oakland Rising, Presente.org, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), UltraViolet Action, and UPTE/CWA Local 9119. 

HALL OF SHAME:  The report card also features a “Hall of Shame” for members of the California Legislature who are most out of step with their constituents, and most closely aligned with the corporate and wealthy special interests that exploit Californians. Each Hall of Shame profile features a narrative describing how the representative failed his or her constituents and any ties to corporate interests. The 2017 Hall of Shame includes:
Assemblymember Catherine Baker (R-16)
Assemblymember Rocky Chávez (R-76)
Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-9)
Assemblymember Tom Daly (D-22)
Senator Bill Dodd (D-3)
Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-11)
Senator Steve Glazer (D-7)
Assemblymember Marc Steinorth (R-40)