Californians shocked state lawmakers were being schmoozed in Hawaii by utility execs as fires raged

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As wildfires raged in California last year, a group of lawmakers from the state were apparently off on a trip to Hawaii with utility companies.

The nonprofit Independent Voter Project hosted the annual event in Maui in November as a dozen lawmakers – mostly Democrats – met with representatives from utility companies who lobbied for a bailout as they seek to raise electricity rates in an effort to offset financial costs due to the wildfires, according to The New York Times.

Lawmakers met with representatives from San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison at the five star Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, KABC-TV reported.

“These 12 legislators have gotten over $630,000 from the three utilities in campaign contributions. Traditionally these trips are paid for by the sponsor. They are comped,” Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, said.

California Assembly members Frank Bigelow, Bill Brough – the only Republicans in the group – as well as Ian Calderon, Jim Cooper, Tom Daly, Heath Flora, Jim Frazier, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Freddie Rodriguez and Blanca Rubio attended the event, according to Consumer Watchdog. State Sens. Ben Hueso and Cathleen Galgiani were also in attendance.

The lawmakers had voted for legislation favorable to the utility companies and have also received more than $630,000 in campaign contributions from the companies.

“We were shocked to learn that while many wildfire victims fled for their lives in Paradise and Malibu this November, utility executives and lobbyists for California’s big utilities were wining and dining 12 influential state legislators in a different paradise – Wailea, Maui,” Court said in an open letter to California leaders.

The chairman of the Independent Voter Project, however, denied that any lobbying had gone on at the event.

“What would be wrong with elected officials and businesses discussing issues?” Dan Howle told The New York Times. “If the public wants to go, the public can pay a fee.”

Consumer Watchdog demanded that new rules that would require “sitting legislators to disclose on their public websites the educational ‘seminars’ and trips they attend when they accept an invitation and the lobbyists attending as well.”

“All of the Wailea 12 should say that they’re going to reach in their own pocket, not their campaign contributors’ but their own pocket, and pay for this trip because they were wrong to be there,” Court said.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which did not have any representatives attend the event due to wildfires at the time, faces $15 billion in lawsuits, damages and cleanup costs stemming from fires in 2017. The company could also be liable for billions more in damages in the November Camp Fire which left 86 people dead and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures in Butte County, Fox News reported. The company reportedly plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid ongoing investigations into the Camp Fire wildfire, according to USA Today.

News of the lawmakers’ jaunt to Hawaii come amid recent backlash against Democratic lawmakers who met with lobbyists on a trip to Puerto Rico where they were treated to a special performance of the Broadway show “Hamilton” – all during an ongoing partial government shutdown.

Representatives from companies such as Facebook, Comcast, Amazon, PhRMA, Microsoft  and Verizon as well as the National Education Association were among about 109 lobbyists and corporate executives named in a note welcoming attendees to the resort.

Over the Christmas holiday, President Trump remained at the White House without his family amid the government shutdown as lawmakers left town, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who claimed she was observing the religious holiday with her trip to Hawaii.

Frieda Powers

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