Hawaii Capitol Rotunda - Photo: Emily Metcalf

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

Photo: Emily Metcalf

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.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ah, it didn’t take this administration long to get on the “give me! give me!” gravy train. But it’s all the more shameful that they had the State Attorney General front this unethical bill. It’s a sad day when we can’t even depend on the State’s top attorney to give some ethical advice to the Governor and tell him this bill stinks.

  2. I could not agree more with Recce comments above and have sent the following email to the Ethics Commission:
    Aloha:
    I want to applaud you for not supporting the efforts by Governor Neil Abercrombie to subvert your office policies and his use of the Attorney Generals Office to do the same.
    I have worked for the Federal Government as a Buyer for services and goods in my long career and have learned a few things about Ethics and the “Appearance of Impropriety.”
    The actions by our Governor are not appropriate and I urge you to continue to fight this measure to loosen the Ethics Standards for our Hawaii Legislators.
    If you ever need support or testimony, I am here for you.
    Keep up the good work!

    I wish you all much Aloha,
    Mike G.

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