As the holidays approach many of you may feel like getting out of town. So do our elected officials.
Many take this time before the legislative session begins to go on
so-called "educational" trips. In and of itself this could, at least in
some cases, be a good idea: Officials can learn about various business
and environmental issues. But the wrinkle is that special interests
groups largely, if not exclusively, fund many of these trips, meaning
they are often categorized as gifts.
The educational experience appears to vary widely among the trips. In
some cases our officials meet with foreign officials; in other cases
they appear to spend much of their time on recreational activities --
Our elected officials should not be expected
to stay home and/or avoid any contact with lobbyists and special
interests as they often serve important purposes. However, it is of
course important to remember that almost by definition these lobbyists
and special interests are seeking to obtain favorable outcomes from
elected officials and those officials must at times regulate those
interest groups. Close relationships can, in other words, create or
appear to create conflicts of interest.
Appearances are important. When it appears that elected officials
obtain perks like trips paid for by the very interests seeking to
influence them, the public can reasonably have questions about the
propriety of those arrangements.
Finish reading this post on KCET.org.