The payoff from free trips for California lawmakers
If you want to try to influence California legislators, there are lots of ways: Nice dinners, fundraisers, campaign contributions, one-on-one conversations.
You can also take them on trips to exotic places around the globe. That’s how the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy likes to roll.
As CalMatters’ politics reporter Alexei Koseff and data journalist Jeremia Kimelman explain, the foundation is the biggest funder of sponsored travel for legislators — $375,000 in 2022, about 40% of the total.
And sometimes, these trips lead to specific bills, as several lawmakers told Alexei and Jeremia:
- Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, in 2020: Traveled to Portland and Seattle to research waste disposal. It led to a successful bill to limit which plastics can display the recycling symbol.
- Assemblymember Devon Mathis, a Visalia Republican, in 2022: Went to Japan and later authored a bill that would have required California to obtain more electricity from nuclear power plants. The bill failed in committee this session.
- Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, in 2022: Also visited Japan and has since tweaked her approach to funding for the Clean Transportation Program.
- Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Glendale Democrat, in 2021: Traveled to Portugal to research wind farms. The trip inspired her bill to streamline the approval of electrical infrastructure projects. The bill is currently in the appropriations committee.
But foundation president and CEO Jay Hansen says specific legislation is not the goal of the trips.
- Hansen, in an email to CalMatters: “We do not craft bills or get involved in legislative debates in or outside of the Capitol.”
The foundation is an unusual umbrella group that includes major corporations, oil companies, environmental groups, construction trade unions, public utilities and water districts — interests often on the opposite sides of issues at the state Capitol. But they share an interest in many of the topics that are the focus of these international trips — and the access to legislators and state officials they provide.
Too much access, critics say.
- Sean McMorris of California Common Cause: “If a friend comes to you and asks for help, you’re much more inclined to help them than a stranger.”
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 How are banks regulated?
If you have an account with a regional bank, or you’re just concerned about the recent failures of California-based financial institutions, such as Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic, you may be eager to learn whether there’s anything more the state can do.
As CalMatters’ economic reporter Grace Gedye explains, the regulatory agency in California is the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. The department is expected to publish a report next week explaining its role in overseeing Silicon Valley Bank and how the state can strengthen financial regulations.
State and federal regulators work together to regulate banks. They investigate management, the types of loans banks offer and other issues. If they uncover any problems, regulators have several tools at their disposal to make banks resolve the issues.
Todd Baker, a senior fellow at the Richman Center for Business, Law, and Public Policy at Columbia University told Grace that to prevent another round of bank failures, state regulators have the power to:
- Require certain banks to have at least one person who has experience with risk management to sit on the risk management committee of a bank’s board;
- Establish new rules on executive compensation, rewarding them for smart management rather than profitable, risky investments.
2 No excuses for drunk driving
State Sen. Dave Min was arrested Tuesday night by California Highway Patrol officers on suspicion of drunk driving near the state Capitol, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Costa Mesa Democrat confirmed the arrest Wednesday with a Facebook post, writing that he was cited for a misdemeanor for driving under the influence.
- Min: “My decision to drive last night was irresponsible. I accept full responsibility and there is no excuse for my actions. To my family, constituents and supporters, I am so deeply sorry. I know I need to do better.”
Min, first elected in 2020, is currently campaigning to succeed Rep. Katie Porter in Congress in 2024. Porter’s Orange County district is one of the most contested in California. (Porter is among one of the many candidates hoping to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.)
In his statement, Min said he would not let the arrest “distract from our work in California and in Washington.” California Republicans, however, seized on the incident to call out his endorsements on Twitter and dubbed the Senator “DUI Dave.”
Min’s arrest brings back some not-so-good memories for the Legislature. In the years before Uber and Lyft’s heyday, lawmakers who were arrested for drunk driving include then-state Sen. Roy Ashburn in March 2010, then-Assemblymember Martin Garrick in June 2011 and then-state Sen. Ben Hueso in August 2014. The string of incidents led to the Senate offering a 24-hour transportation service to legislators in 2015.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Supreme Court has blown the legal whistle on schemes by school officials to evade competitive bidding on construction projects.
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: Though Karen Bass has prioritized homelessness and public safety, it isn’t easy for Los Angeles mayors to sidestep public education.
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