Suppose you have been scrimping for years so that you and your family could finally enjoy a Hawaiian vacation. Winging your way high over the Pacific, visions of palm trees, white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and maybe even hula dancers pass through your head.
Disembarking at Honolulu International Airport what do you see? Politicians. Lots of politicians. Lots of California politicians.
The California politicians are making their annual pilgrimage to paradise. And while you are paying for your own accommodations, the California lawmakers scheduled to attend the Independent Voter Project (IVP) conference scheduled to begin Nov. 17, will have most of the bill for their suites at the five-star Fairmont Kea Lani picked up by others. Among the dozens of interests providing hospitality to legislators are a host of corporations and even one of the most powerful public employee unions in California.
However, not to worry. No lobbying will take place according to Dan Howle, a Lilly USA executive who helped organize the event. “It gives the sponsoring companies an opportunity to talk about what their business is like in California,” Howle told the Los Angeles Times. Still, suspicions are high that between panel discussions there will be plenty of time for the politicians to enjoy golf, snorkeling and the other pleasures of the resort. And, as to the discussions themselves, it is a safe bet that the voices of citizen taxpayers and consumers will be missing.
Let’s speak directly. These conferences are nonsense and in spite of self-serving justifications, the exotic location and sumptuous accommodations are nothing more than an enticement to put lawmakers in the position of being a captive audience for special interest pleaders. Saying these gatherings are legitimate legislative business does not pass the “laugh test.”
The IVP conference is just one of several being held in Hawaii to “inform” California lawmakers. If the conferences have actual value, they should be held here in California where voters can observe the work being done. And although our state has plenty of splendid resorts, these meetings would best be held in locations like the Inland Empire that the U.S. Census Bureau says has the highest poverty rate in the country. Or perhaps Los Angeles County that is suffering nearly 10 percent unemployment. Maybe the Central Valley where environmental extremism has turned off the water spigot. Accommodations can be provided at a Quality Inn with dinner at Denny’s. Not only will this be a boost to the local economy, but it will allow lawmakers to travel and eat like most of their beleaguered constituents and to rub elbows with real people who are suffering under the laws they have passed.
It may be that no actual taxpayer dollars were spent on the luxurious Hawaiian vacations. But the fact that powerful special interests have exclusive access to legislative decision makers for five straight days should raise a huge red flag for anyone who has read the headlines in the last three weeks about corruption in the California Legislature.
This is about appearances. Even if there is nothing nefarious going on in the Aloha State, our elected officials should know better. Let’s hope for the day when the invitation to these junkets by the moneyed special interests is declined by all elected officials.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.