Gov. Brown chooses private donors to pay for China trip

  • California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the official unveiling ceremony and opening of the California-China Office of Trade and Investment on Friday April 12, 2013 in Shanghai, China. (AP Photo)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown likes to portray his administration as frugal when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. So he has taken the same approach as his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in paying for his trade mission to China — asking business interests and political donors to foot the bill.

Some 90 business leaders from a variety of industries are paying $10,000 each to join Brown on his weeklong trip to China and cover the costs for Brown and other state officials, according to the Bay Area Council, a business group that helped organize the trip.

The delegates get access to the high-level Chinese officials with whom Brown is meeting and a chance to spend time with Brown, when they may seek to influence his thinking on issues that are important to them. Such access is at the heart of many political contributions and the endless fundraisers lawmakers hold during which lobbyists pay to mingle with decision-makers.

"If he uses taxpayer money, he gets accused of junketeering. If he uses corporate money, he's accused of bowing to corporate influence. And if he doesn't go at all, he's accused of failing to promote California's interest in the world's largest country," said Jack Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College. "So whatever he does, he's going to face criticism."

Unlike Schwarzenegger, an internationally known movie star before he took office, Brown has to introduce himself to the Chinese. To avoid criticism at home, all Brown can do is to be transparent about how the trip is being financed, Pitney said.

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