San Diego delegation has spent about $188,000 over 15 months

By Michael Gardner
Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 8:20 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers from San Diego County spent $188,000 flying on more than 520 round-trips in the 15 months ending in September, but most details of the travel are secret.

The Legislature has declined to release the majority of the data on the grounds that it might compromise security to divulge travel routines between Sacramento and San Diego.

Times, dates and destinations were provided for only about three dozen of the trips, mostly one-time flights that would not show a travel pattern. The public paid close to $12,000 for the few trips where specifics were provided.

Some of the trips for which specifics were released:

• Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, flew to Boise, Idaho, for a conference held by the Council of State Governments from Sept. 10 to Sept 15. Airfare was $385.

• Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, went to San Francisco in late November 2009. She was honored by the Utility Reform Network as legislator of the year. The flight cost $335.

• Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, traveled in early November 2009 to San Francisco for $335 and a month later he traveled to Oakland at a cost of $335. Details that would indicate the reasons for the trips were blocked out.

Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, said he would support releasing all travel schedule details after the flights have occurred.

“The public has a right to know, and the press should be allowed to investigate whether or not taxpayer-funded flights are being abused,” Wyland said in an e-mail.

Other lawmakers say they are simply following legislative rules for security purposes.

“The Assembly sets the policy to balance disclosure with safety. We follow the established policy,” Fletcher said in an e-mail.

Fletcher said his office has received “several threats. Each was referred to the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms for investigation.”

He added, “When I return to San Diego at taxpayer expense it is for official business. If I travel for personal or political reasons, I do not use taxpayer funds.”

Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, limited his response to an e-mail message sent by his spokesman, Mike Naple. In it, Naple wrote that “travel is always related to state business” when taxpayers are billed.

“As a matter of ensuring safety and security, we don’t discuss the specific arrangements regarding this travel,” Naple wrote.

Public interest groups contacted by The Watchdog questioned why the Legislature is intent on hiding regular airline travel.

Katie Fleming, policy advocate for California Common Cause, said easy access to the information without having to file formal open records requests “would result in a strong accountability tool. Legislators might think twice before taking an unnecessary trip on the taxpayer dime.”

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