BY JIM DOOLEY – The Abercrombie administration is proposing changes to the state ethics code that would allow state officials, including legislators, to accept unlimited numbers of
invitations to charitable fundraising events, even if the purpose of the gifts is to influence votes or other official actions.
The state Ethics Commission is opposed to the bill, HB2457, which is similar to another measure introduced by lawmakers last year after the commission’s new executive director advised them they could not accept such gifts.
Now the Attorney General’s office has authored a measure that would allow acceptance of such gifts, worth unlimited amounts of money.
In recommending passage, Deputy Attorney General Robyn Chun said, “Attendance by lawmakers and government officials at events sponsored by charitable entities provides them with educational opportunities to help them keep current with community issues.”
The proposed new law would only ban acceptance of free invitations to golf tournaments organized as fundraisers for non-profits.
Charitable golf tournaments, Chun said, have a “less focused” educational purpose than other events, Chun said.
Ethics Commission executive director Leslie Kondo testified against the new bill, saying it would allow legislators and other state officials “to get more freebies.”
“I urge the committee to remember the statutory purpose of the Ethics Code…to preserve the public’s confidence in state government,” said Kondo.
“There’s some obvious issues about the bill,” Kondo said. “Legislators and other state employees can accept free tickets without regard to the cost, without regard to the relationship between the organization and the recipient and without regard to the purpose of the event,” he said.
As written, the administration bill places “no limit as to the number of tickets that a charity can give to the same legislator or the same government official,” said Kondo.
Charities do “great work,” he said, but they also lobby the state to receive state contracts, grants and other benefits, often in competition with other non-profit and for-profit organizations.
The League of Women Voters said in testimony that it “strongly opposes” the bill.
“We see the proposed exemption as a giant step backward,” the league said.
Americans for Democratic Action official Barbara Polk called the bill “a complete violation of the intent of the Ethics Code.”
She said the bill “makes the non-profits look bad, it makes the Legislature look bad and it opens the way for corruption of our entire system,” Polk said.
Blogger Larry Geller, publisher of “Disappeared News,” said the measure would allow non-profits to give state employees first-class air travel to attend a charitable fundaiser in Las Vegas as long it wasn’t a golf tournament.
“Changing the law as this bill suggests would permit endless abuses,” said Geller.