10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – State lawmakers continue to solicit tens of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions from businesses and other donors with a stake in Capitol decision-making.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, steered $120,000 in donations to a nonprofit organization that helped pay for a recent Republican legislative retreat at a beachfront resort in Santa Barbara.

The money was a fraction of the $8.4 million in so-called behested payments that state legislators and constitutional officers obtained for their favorite causes in 2009, according to state records. The total does not include pro bono legal services that legislative caucuses requested for various causes and reported en masse.

The Republicans’ retreat at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort included briefings from state budget officials. Republicans also brainstormed on upcoming legislation and other proposals to create jobs and to stimulate business, Senate GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said.

“Just like we’ve done in the past, it’s helped state senators and other Republican members to develop a plan for this upcoming year as it relates to legislation,” Barajas said.

The donations for the GOP conference were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Derek Cressman, Western regional director for California Common Cause, said contributions to lawmakers’ designated charities are another way for special interests to influence the legislative process.

Anyone can donate to a charity on their own, he said. If they give at a lawmaker’s request, “it suggests that they’re doing it not out of goodwill toward the charity but as a way to curry favor with legislators,” Cressman said.

The money raised by Hollingsworth went to the Sacramento-based Council for Legislative Excellence. The organization has paid for various advocacy and training programs for the Legislature’s Republican minority.

The Legislature’s majority Democrats also have relied on charitable donations to put on caucus events.

Campaign donors currently can give no more than $3,900 per election. But donors can make behested payments of any amount, with lawmakers required to disclose payments above $5,000.

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