Hawai‘i lawmakers hunger for free meals

Ethics laws governing Hawai‘i public officials are so lax that I didn’t think further loosening was possible.

But cutting themselves ethical slack is one of our legislators’ special areas of creativity, and they’ve done it again with a bill up for hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9 a.m. today that would allow lawmakers and other state officials to accept wining and dining from special interests with virtual impunity.

The original version of SB 671, introduced by Democratic Sen. Les Ihara and Republican Sen. Sam Slom, was a noble attempt to tighten reporting requirements on those who seek to influence legislators by requiring monthly disclosures from lobbyists and their clients when the Legislature is in session.

The amended version being heard today is a gut-and-replace job that weakens a current law barring acceptance of any gift intended to influence or reward official action with a more liberal rule that allows gifts of up to $200 from special interests, even if they are intended to influence and reward.

The amended measure allows legislators to accept and even solicit from lobbying interests food and beverages, travel and free tickets to charity, cultural, political or community events.

It’s pretty pathetic when our senators’ brightest idea for better government in the public interest is more freebies for themselves.

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4 Comments on “Hawai‘i lawmakers hunger for free meals”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Yesterday Dave used the phrase “erosion of confidence”. That was in reference to the rail project.

    Here we have another case where actions of our elected leaders are leading to an erosion of confidence in our government.

    As he says,”Pathetic.”

  2. Guido Sarducci Says:

    Related News Item: Rod Tam announces candidacy for State Senate. Slogan: “A free meal in every vote”

  3. Michael Says:

    Tam it, Tam it all.
    Tam was never a dimsumwit.
    “Trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents”.

  4. Kolea Says:

    The situation appears to be less outrageous than my first impression. Here is my rough, half-informed sense of what happened.

    The Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, headed by Bill Kaneko, recently held a fundraiser to which legislators were invited to come for free. A few days before the event, the ED of the Ethics Commission was briefing House members on the Ethics Code and someone asked whether it would be OK to accept tickets to the dinner. The answer was “no.”

    this resulted in a lot of legislators cancelling on the dinner and frustration all around.

    The Senate leadership wanted to clarify/ amend the law to make it OK to attend this and similar events for free. They looked for a “vehicle bill” and seized on Senator Ihara’s bill, something they probably didn’t like that much anyways.

    So Ihara’s bill was gutted and the proposed SD1 language was offered.

    At today’s hearing, some non-profits favored the new draft, while the “good government” reform groups were upset. Senator Hee, following the recommendations of the Ethics ED, wrote a much more narrowly tailored bill which would allow legislators to accept free tickets to events sponsored by charitable organizations and 501 c 3s.

    So, the original Ihara language was removed, but so was the earlier SD 1 language which would have allowed legislators and other government employees to accept, even SOLICIT, gifts worth up to $200.

    The mystery, to me, is why they wrote the earlier SD1 so broadly (and offensively) if the motivation was to carve out an acception for events sponsored by non-profits. I do NOT believe anyone thought the public would accept that language. I tend to believe it was a tactical move, an example of the “gamesmanship” which was criticized recently. By initially writing the amendment so broadly, then reducing it to a narrowly tailored exception, they managed to push through the amendment in a way that left the reformers feel grateful the original SD 1 language was killed.

    I have woven together some facts and some conjecture in this account. I do not pretend to have complete knowledge of what happened. I encourage others to offer what facts they hold, so we can better understand WTH they were thinking.


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