While imposing new lockdown measures in California, lawmakers head to Maui for big fundraising conference


SACRAMENTO — At least two California lawmakers and possibly several others are at a legislative conference taking place this week at a resort in Maui despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference, hosted by the Independent Voter Project every November for more than a decade, brings together legislators and corporate sponsors at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui’s southwest shore for five days of policy discussions and schmoozing.

A spokesperson for Assembly member Chad Mayes, an independent from Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County, confirmed he was in Hawaii, as first reported by Politico, but declined to discuss why he decided to attend this year amid the pandemic.

Assembly members Blanca Rubio and Jordan Cunningham reported in financial disclosure forms filed late last month that they used campaign funds to buy four tickets to Hawaii for themselves and others.

Rubio, a Democrat from Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County, reported spending more than $1,600 on Hawaiian Airlines tickets for herself and two members of her household to travel to Hawaii from Nov. 15-20 for a legislative conference.

Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, spent $306 with Southwest Airlines for “Conference Travel, 1, CA/HI” on Nov. 15, according to his campaign form.

Representatives for Rubio and Cunningham did not respond to calls and emails. But several news outlets confirmed through conference organizers that Rubio was there.

Fred and California state lawmakers share a good laugh (Photo by : freddthompson)

At least two other legislators may also be at the conference, which began just days after California issued a travel advisory recommending that any visitor or resident returning from outside the state quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.

KRON-TV reported that Assembly member Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove in Sacramento County, was seen at the hotel. His spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Assembly member Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who attended the conference last year, sent a tweet this week that was tagged to Kihei, Hawaii, a town near the Fairmont Kea Lani. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

Dan Howle, chairman and executive director of the Independent Voter Project, which has hosted the event every year for more than a decade, told The Chronicle on Monday that he had decided to move forward with the conference last month after Hawaii relaxed its travel policy so people could visit the state if they had a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours before arriving.

About 120 people are attending this year, a third of the usual size, Howle said. They include corporate sponsors who paid thousands of dollars and legislators from California, Texas and Washington state, who received complimentary airfare and a five-night stay at the hotel.

The Independent Voter Project spent more than $61,000 last year to host 17 legislators from California at the conference, according to statements of economic interest filed by lawmakers earlier this year.

The Chronicle reached out to the offices of those legislators, including Rubio, Cunningham, Cooper and Carrillo, on Tuesday to inquire whether they had traveled to Maui this year. Six responded to say their members did not attend; the remaining 11 have not responded.

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