California lawmakers are gathering in Maui, Hawaii, this month for two expense-defrayed conferences with the state’s most powerful companies, unions and lobbyists.
It is expected that the 16 legislators at the Independent Voter Project (IVP) conference, which begins November 17, will talk with other attendees about the fine weather, splendid accommodations and diverse activities.
But there will be no lobbying. At least, that’s what Dan Howle, a Lilly USA executive who helped organize the five-day soiree, told the Los Angeles Times. “It gives the sponsoring companies an opportunity to talk about what their business is like in California,” he said.
The conference will be held at the 5-star Fairmont Kea Lani—“Hawaii’s only all suite and villa luxury oceanfront resort” —where you can get an oceanfront three-bedroom villa for $3,009 a day. That includes breakfast for up to six people. But unless the lawmakers pony up some of their own money (or their constituents money), they will probably have to settle for something a bit less luxurious. The Sacramento Bee said IVP only provided legislators with up to $2,800 last year to attend.
The IVP is ostensibly a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)4 organization. It was founded in 2006 by Steve Peace, a former Democratic legislator and writer-actor-producer of the “Killer Tomatoes” movies, and was a prime mover behind introduction of the top-two primary system in California.
The group is funded by dozens of companies that have included Pacific Gas & Electric, Chevron, Altria and Southern California Edison, in addition to the state prison guards union. A CBS reporter visited the 2011 conference but couldn’t get his camera crew inside the conference itself.
Common Cause Executive Director Kathy Feng told CBS she questioned the group’s sincerity when they say it is only trying to promote open and honest dialogue. “If Steve Peace is sincere in thinking that what he wants to do is promote dialogue then let’s come on back to California,” she said. “If, on the other hand, what this really is, is a front for special interests to funnel their money, to gain access to a couple of key legislators, then I cry foul and I think that there needs to be an investigation.”
Daily Kos writer RL Miller suggested the group be renamed “Corporate Voters Project” or the “Feudal Voters Project, for encouraging voters to aid corporations far more wealthy than them.”
A second conference this week is sponsored by Pacific Policy Research Foundation. San Luis Obispo County Assessor and former Republican Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro Jr. serves as the foundation’s president. He is also past president of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party. The board of directors includes his wife, Martha Bordonaro; Sherry Leonard, wife of Bill Leonard; and former state Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield).
Bill Leonard is a former head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, since reorganized and renamed. He was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ashburn was well known for his anti-gay voting record and remarks until he was arrested for DUI after leaving a gay bar. He acknowledged he was homosexual in March 2010 and left office nine months later.
According to Cal Coast News, the foundation’s primary purpose is raising funds for the Maui junket. The news outlet questioned the 2010 attendance at the conference of high-ranking members of the state Board of Equalization, which reviews the performance of the state’s county assessors.