Who was the top junketeer among local legislators in 2013? That would be Democratic assemblywoman Shirley Weber, according to just-filed state personal financial disclosure reports.
The California Foundation of the Environment and Economy picked up the 79th District representative’s biggest travel tab, $11,700.52. The non-profit's board includes representative of labor and corporate interests with lots of business before legislators and state regulators.
Weber's disclosure says she "participated in a study travel project" in September and leaves it at that. A foundation spokeswoman says the trip was to Sweden and Norway.
According to a September 24 report in the Sacramento Bee, scheduled participants included "Sens. Kevin de León, Anthony Cannella, Ricardo Lara and Bill Emmerson; Assembly members Travis Allen, Cristina Garcia, Steven Bradford, Kristin Olsen and Shirley Weber; and a collection of board members representing energy companies, labor groups and environmental organizations."
The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy chose Scandinavia because the region — Sweden especially — has emerged as a leader in encouraging the use of renewable energy, said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the organization. Johnston said the organization has come to anticipate criticism of such trips but emphasized that the focus remains on developing thoughtful public policy.
"I know there are critics of any kind of travel but the fact is this organization was founded a long time ago and has been doing essentially the same thing for all those years, which is having working trips to places around the world that can give insight with regard to best practices," Johnston said. "These are not golf trips to Maui."
A lawsuit filed this week by a Pacific Gas & Electric Company shareholder would beg to differ. The lawsuit linked alleged negligence leading up to the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion to past California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy trips, saying they allowed state regulators to become cozy with industries they are responsible for overseeing.
The complaint faults California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey for participating in "lavish junkets that are represented as necessary excursions to improve California's energy situation" but that in fact serve to "reduce the amount of regulation PG&E is under."
Other Weber travel gifts included $1235 in food and lodging from Ed Voice Institute and $416 worth of meals and lodging from the California Independent Petroleum Association.
Her free travel grand total was $16,258.
In second place among the big-time San Diego legislative travelers was Democratic assembly speaker-to-be Toni Atkins, with $6509.
Her airport-parking freebie from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority was worth $3308, and she took a May 2013 trip to Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia, to speak, worth $1588, among other engagements.
Next came GOP assemblyman Joel Anderson, with travel, meals, and lodging of $5810, all but $150 to attend three events sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, allied with the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers.
GOP assemblyman Brian Maienschein got $4456, all in free airport parking.
Democratic state senator Ben Hueso received a total of $1851, including $1030 for two trips from the California Foundation of the Environment and Economy.
Democratic assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who took Hueso's seat when he moved up to the senate, reported getting $2065, including $489 in hotel room and meals in December from the California Healthcare Institute.