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— Two impending San Diego conferences are of more than passing note for those with an interest in the dicey side of politics. First up is called the Capital Campus California Retreat, sponsored by George Mason University's Mercatus Center, an Arlington, Virginia-based think tank "focused on improving our understanding of how societies transition to prosperity and remain prosperous over time," according to a blurb on its website. Set for tomorrow and Saturday, the event is supposed to provide participants with "tools for better decision-making and an improved understanding of the interaction of law, economics, and government in California." The keynoter is ex-Democratic congressman Tim Roemer, a member of the 9/11 Commission.

But what has some critics in an uproar is the fact that admission to the invite-only goings-on will be provided free of charge: "Registrants will be flown from Sacramento to San Diego on the morning of Friday, January 19, 2007, arriving at the Hotel del Coronado for lunch and the beginning of the program. Participants can expect a number of interesting sessions over the course of the program, in addition to meals and receptions held throughout the weekend. On Saturday, January 20 a return flight will take participants back to Sacramento."

The lucky chosen few just happen to include key legislative staffers invited by the office of Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez. That's raised the ire of Dirty Money Watch, an online newsletter run by Harvey Rosenfield, the former Ralph Naderite who's been a thorn in the side of the state's politicos, insurance industry, utility companies, and HMOs for years. Mercatus has long taken money from big oil companies, such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, as well as General Motors, Pfizer, and Enron. "The problem here is not that anti-regulation forces will get to say their piece," the newsletter argues. "It's that they'll say it while they have exclusive access to the top legislative aides in the capital, in a luxurious setting those staffers aren't likely to forget." ... Then, speaking of politicians, on March 1 and 2, the American Bar Association brings its White Collar Crime National Institute to San Diego for the first time ever, with U.S. Attorney Carol Lam -- reportedly just ousted by the Bush administration in a behind-the-scenes coup -- a star speaker. "Over 1,000 practitioners attended last year's annual gathering of the national white collar bar," says a note on the ABA's website. Taxpayers who have faithfully followed the Cheetahs strip club scandal -- whose participants Lam prosecuted -- and the City of San Diego's pension fund mess will find some of the topics painfully familiar, including "Lines between lobbying and corruption"; "Dealing with investigations for obstruction, perjury and making false statements"; "Finding the digital smoking gun"; and "Successful strategies for managing complex criminal fraud investigations."

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