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California Businesses Join, Pay For Gov. Brown's China Trip

Gov. Jerry Brown has company on his trip to China to further his climate change agenda: About 30 California business leaders are along for the ride to support Brown's policies and build their own business deals.

The business delegation is led by the Bay Area Council business advocacy organization and includes executives at transportation and energy companies, public utility leaders, academics, investors and a top executive of San Francisco International Airport.

Most paid a fee of about $5,500 on top of their travel costs to attend four days of events, including multiple private dinners and receptions with Brown, a clean energy ministerial and meetings with Chinese business and political leaders.

Brown's office declined to provide an estimate on the trip costs for him and staff members being paid for by a nonprofit group that takes private donations.

"The purpose of this is really to enable California to play a global role on an issue that's of huge global consequence," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, which helps run California's trade office in China. "The governor showed a lot of appreciation about having fellow Californians take the time to go to China just for a few days."

Brown's five-day trip, which ends Thursday, has generated heightened media and political attention following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Brown has pledged California's support to continue meeting emission reduction goals laid out in the international accord. He signed a new agreement this week with China aimed at boosting green technology.

It's his second trip to China. A 2013 visit was paid for by Bay Area Council delegates.

But this time, a different group of businesses is paying for the visit for Brown and four of his staff members. The nonprofit California State Protocol Foundation collects private donations to fund travel and other expenses for the state's governors, with the goal of eliminating costs to taxpayers.

Donations to the foundation to support Brown's activities must be regularly disclosed. Documents show labor unions, a physicians group and businesses such as Walmart gave between $25,000 and $100,000 to the foundation in 2016 to pay for Brown's travel, meals and other activities.

Oakland developer John Protopappas, a longtime friend of Brown's, serves as the foundation's president. Tom Willis, an attorney for the nonprofit group, said donations were not solicited specifically for the China trip. Donations in 2017 will eventually be disclosed but are not available yet.

Ethics experts say while there's nothing illegal or wrong with using private funds to pay for the trip or letting business executives tag along it still raises questions about who gets access to the governor.

"Any elected official hears more about the hopes and dreams and concerns of those who can pay to fund trips and spend time with him," said Jessica Levinson, a professor who studies government and ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

While in China, Brown has met with leaders in the Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces and in Beijing, and delivered remarks at various forums. Remarks on the California-China Climate Partnership at Tsinghau University early Thursday mark Brown's final event of the trip.

Executives traveling with the Bay Area Council dined with Brown on Tuesday evening and attended a Wednesday reception with the governor and Beijing Mayor Cai Qi.

Here's who's joining Brown in China:

  • Ken Alston, investment manager, California Clean Energy Fund; Stefano Benatti, Head of U.S. Office, Energica Motor Company; Austin Benzinger, director of business development, Thor Trucks; Jeff Bokor, professor and associate dean of research, UC Berkeley; Carla Boragno, vice president, Genentech;
  • Damian Breen, deputy air pollution control officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District; Andrew Chang, director of partnerships Asia Pacific, New Energy Nexus; Lilly Chung, partner and West Region Chinese Services Group Leader, Deloitte; Dean Florez, CEO of Balance Public Relations; Arthur Haubenstock, general counsel and vice president, government and regulatory, 8 minute renewables;
  • Joey Hinson, director of operations, Tech Crunch; Helen Hong Yu, Secretary General, US Sino Friendship Association; Jay Keasling, CEO, professor and associate lab director, Joint BioEnergy Institute, UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab; Akira Kirton, managing director, EMEA and MOW, BP Ventures; Linda Lu, president, Hanhai Investments;
  • Jerry Lynn, CEO, Superstars Wireless; Michelle Moskowitz, director of institutional relations, UC Berkeley; Stephen O'Kane, director of sustainability, AES West USA; Arlen Orchard, CEO, Sacramento Management Utility District; Simon Pang, chief strategy officer, Royal Business Bank and President, US Sino Friendship Association;
  • Julian Potter, chief administration officer, San Francisco International Airport; Dennis Rodriguez, chief city executive Los Angeles/San Francisco/San Diego, Siemans Corporation; Dakota Semler, CEO and founder, Thor Trucks; Alan Thian, president and CEO, Royal Business Bank; Min Thian, account manager, Chicago Title Insurance Company and senior account executive, Shomer Insurance Agency, Inc.;
  • Andrea Vezzani, CFO, Energica Motor Company; Fred H. Walti, II, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and the Network for Global Innovation; Alecia Ward, leader for program development, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Jim Wunderman, president and CEO, Bay Area Council; John Grubb, chief operating officer, Bay Area Council;
  • Del Christensen, chief of global business development, Bay Area Council; Jennifer Zou, vice president of global initiative and head of operations, Bay Area Council; Alex Foard, director of business development, Hangzhou and Nanjing, Bay Area Council; Laurent Arribe, global business development manager, Bay Area Council.
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