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    Goodbye Constitution Freedom America by Don Jans

    The payoff from free trips for CA lawmakers


    Lynn La  LYNN LA

    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.

    This year, it took legislators to Denmark to study offshore wind energy, bioenergy and other issues. Last year, the foundation organized study trips to Iceland and Japan.

    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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