On the heels of Gov. Schwarzenegger calling a special session to tackle part of the $25 billion deficit, about two dozen lawmakers from both parties are living it up in Maui at the luxurious Fairmont Kea Lani Resort for a conference, hobnobbing with lobbyists and corporate executives.
Airfare and lodging are paid for by the non-profit, California Independent Voter Project, whose funding comes from the exact interests mingling with those politicians now.
"California has really big problems right now. We have the highest unemployment rates in the country and a giant budget problem that we need to be working on right away," Derek Cressman from California Common Cause said. "To be flying to Hawaii and living the life of luxury on the tab of some of the most powerful interests in the state, the prison guards, PG&E, pharmaceutical companies, it's just quite appalling and selfish."
The conferences typically talk about things like health care and green energy. ABC7 tried calling some lawmakers in Maui, but most didn't want to comment or were unavailable.
Speaker John Perez's staff emphasized no state money was used and preparations are underway for Schwarzenegger's special session. In a statement, a spokesman said, "The conference provides a valuable bi-partisan exchange of ideas on key issues facing our state, including budget reform which is one of the main topics at the conference."
Most lawmakers don't participate in the Hawaii conference, which takes place during a legislative recess. Former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber never took part in those annual November conferences in Hawaii because of the conflict of interest and these days it just looks bad.
"It's a problem for the image of the Legislature, it's something people don't understand when they are worried about kitchen table issues, education and about whether or not to jobs are going to be around, what's going to happen to their healthcare. It's something that makes the Legislature out of touch," she said.
The tough thing about those non-profits that sponsor the conferences is that they do not legally have to disclose their donors, so we may never know who might call in a favor later to those lawmakers later in exchange for those very nice trips.