Documents Reveal Details of Corporate-Funded Luxury Junket for Top State Officials, Spouses And Lobbyists;

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Chevron Hosts Day of Meetings for Gov’s Chief of Staff, Assembly Speaker and Others On “Rascals In Paradise” Tour of South America

Santa Monica, CA — Public records demanded by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) show that government officials’ recent junket to South America was far more lavish, tourism-oriented and corporate-driven than spokespersons for the officials have admitted. The documents indicate that the so-called “International Travel Study Project to South America” for California government officials between November 9 and November 22 was an extravagant junket filled with island hopping, golf, wine tasting and a night at the Copacabana Palace, described as “the best luxury hotel in Latin America.” See below for links to the various hotels on the trip. The records are available for download here:

According to the records, the tour, which appears to have been run by the San Francisco firm Rascals In Paradise, included only two full working days and four days in which meetings were over by noon. Much of the time was set aside for city tours and free time at high-end resorts in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for which the politicians and lobbyists on the trip were recommended to pack “a swimsuit and comfortable hiking/walking shoes as it is heading into summer in South America'” On Brazilian visa applications, participants checked “Tourism,” rather than “Attend conference, seminar or workshop,” as the reason for the trip.

Among the public officials on the junket were Governor Schwarzenegger’s Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, other lawmakers, California Energy Commission Chair Jackie Pfannenstiel and Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Steve Larson. Executives and lobbyists from energy companies Chevron, PG&E and SoCal Edison were among the corporate sponsors making the trip. The spouses and domestic partners of Kennedy, Nuñez, Assemblyman Laird and Senator Lowenthal also went along on the ostensible study trip.

“This is Jack Abramoff’s golfing trips to Scotland, only with more bathing suits,’ said FTCR Executive Director Douglas Heller. “These luxury vacations paid for by special interests and dressed up as study trips just confirm that government officials are guided by a culture of corruption. The companies on the trip got days of uninterrupted lobbying and socializing with these public officials who will certainly remember their all-expense-paid vacation to the Copacabana when the lobbyists demand special favors in Sacramento.”

The trip was sponsored by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE), whose funders include the trip’s corporate. FTCR has criticized public officials for participating in previous CFEE-sponsored, energy industry junkets including trips to Italy and Australia in 2004. In addition to having 12 days of unfettered access to powerful California state officials, Chevron, a major corporate-funder of the trip, delivered a series of private presentations to the officials all afternoon on November 13. John “Jack” Coffey, Chevron‘s lead lobbyist, was representing his company on the trip.

The companies represented on the “Rascals” junket regularly have policy and regulatory issues before the lawmakers and other public officials on the trip. Energy Commission Chair Pfannenstiel, for example, oversees various aspects of the oil and electricity industry. The California Public Utilities Commission not only regulates electric companies but recently gained state regulatory authority over digital and cable TV companies including Comcast, which sent a lobbyist. (Comcast and other cable companies struck their deal with fellow traveler Speaker Nuñez, who sponsored the digital/cable TV deregulation that authorized the new role for the Utilites Commission.) Susan Kennedy will play a major role in the Administration’s implementation of a recently enacted law to address greenhouse gases that will impact many of the companies who went to South America.

“The average citizen will never be on an even playing field with powerful business interests that spend tens of thousands of dollars wining and dining and vacationing with government officials like this. There should be a bright line that prohibits officials from taking international trips paid by private interest groups. If there is such a compelling reason for the politicians to make a study trip abroad, the government ought to pay. Of course, the politicians won’t get first class plane tickets and an extra week in the sun if taxpayers pick up the tab,” said Heller.

The industry-funded junket included stays at the following luxury hotels and resorts:

Hotel do Frade and Golf Resort (11/10-11/13) –
Copacabana Palace (11/13-11/14) –
Alvear Palace (11/14-11/16), which provides personal butler service for guests –
Llao Llao Hotel and Resort Golf Spa (11/16-11/19) –
The Ritz Carlton (11/19-11/21) ‘

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Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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