As most of San Diego's political class stays home toiling away on yet another mayoral election, a former Democratic state senator and his politico pals from Sacramento are soon to wing their way to Maui, where the Independent Voter Project's annual legislator and lobbyist bash is about to get under way.
For years, the event, off limits to reporters and other curious outsiders, has provided a November repast of free food, drinks, lodging, and rounds of golf to worthy California lawmakers — in other words, anybody with a vote in the legislature who wants to claim a nice freebie and can handle a little media heat.
Noted local legislators who have attended past events include North County Republican assemblyman Martin Garrick, who got $1951.34 worth of free hospitality at the 2010 shindig.
As reported here in March 2011:
It wasn’t until the first of February of this year, a month before his financial disclosure was due, that Garrick apparently had second thoughts and reimbursed the Peace group for his own expenses, according to his disclosure, filed March 1.
Garrick spokesman Mike Zimmerman said his boss had always planned to reimburse the independent voter group for his expenses and there was no significance to the fact the payment was not made until February
(Later that year, Garrick partied a bit too hearty in Sacramento, where he was arrested in the capitol garage for drunk driving.)
Peace's Independent Voter Project, a so-called 501(c)(4) nonprofit, played a key role in changing the state's primaries from genteel two-party affairs to wide-open horse races. Staging the Maui event, he insists, is just another way he contributes to good government.
Donors to the party have included the state's prison-guard union, a longtime Peace ally, as well as Southern California Edison, big tobacco’s Altria, Pacific Gas and Electric, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Chevron.
The Independent Voter group's board includes San Diego lobbyist Jeff Marston and Daniel Howle, Sacramento-based director of public affairs for Lilly USA, a subsidiary of the multinational pharmaceutical firm.
According to the voter project’s 2010 disclosure, Howle’s spouse got a $57,000 “fix fee contract” to “arrange, organize and produce” the event.
In today's Sacramento Bee, Howle is quoted as saying that attendance may be off this year due to the recent FBI raid at the Capitol.
Howle said that no legislative leaders are attending and noted that some members have backed out in the aftermath of a leaked affidavit alleging that Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, accepted bribes from an undercover FBI agent.
Calderon, who attended in past years and had expressed interest to Howle in this year's conference, also decided not to attend.
"I don't think it's wise for me to go," Howle said, paraphrasing lawmakers who have dropped out. "There's too much scrutiny."
Legislators can have their hotel and airfare covered, although Howle said not all of the attendees accept reimbursements.
Howle wouldn't give up the names of those members expected to show, but he assured the paper that nobody would deign to actually lobby anybody at the event.
"We have some specific rules about what you can do in the panels," Howle said. "You cannot have any discussion about specific legislation or pending legislation."
He did note, however, "that the conference will feature a presentation on a Lilly-backed website that addresses counterfeit medications."
And every party has its pooper:
"It's become an unwelcome tradition for California voters," Phillip Ung of Common Cause said of the annual Maui pilgrimage. "Every year they read about it and every year they're sickened by it."