Legislators fight for the right to freeload (cont’d)

The one thing you can count on with our Legislature is that bad ideas never die, especially when it comes to legislators taking care of themselves.

So it is with SB 671, a shameless attempt by lawmakers to render themselves ethically free to accept gifts, travel and free meals from those seeking to buy their favor.

The original version drafted by Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria would have allowed legislators and other public officials to accept or even solicit virtually unlimited travel and meals and other gifts worth up to $200 from just about anybody seeking to influence their actions.

After a public outcry, the version that passed the Senate was stripped down to limit the gifts lawmakers could accept to free tickets to fundraisers of IRS 501(c)(3) organizations (public charities and private foundations).

The state Ethics Commission voted last week to oppose even that, noting that charities have business before the Legislature and if lawmakers want to attend their functions they can pay their own way like everybody else.

When the bill got to the House, Majority Leader Blake Oshiro amended it again to throw travel and other gifts back into the mix of allowable freebies and expand the definition of “charities” that could gift legislators to once again include nominally nonprofit lobbying organizations, labor unions, trade associations and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors.

“Invitations could be accepted even where it reasonably could be inferred that the invitation is offered to influence or reward the legislator or state employee,” said Ethics Commission executive director Les Kondo.

The Ethics Commission interprets current law to bar meals and gifts worth more than $25 in the absence of a clear public benefit.

Oshiro’s main motivation for loosening the rules seems to be that he’s tired of fielding calls from ethically challenged colleagues whining that they can’t have their freebies. Poor babies.

The House Judiciary Committee put off further consideration until next week.

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8 Comments on “Legislators fight for the right to freeload (cont’d)”

  1. David Says:

    Continued proof that Hawaii has no real ethics laws when it comes to politics. If you want change in Hawaii, vote NO INCUMBENTS!

  2. Michael Says:

    Tam shows that he may be the pioneer and not a dimsumwit when it came to accepting free meals on tax payers dollars.
    Tam the torpedoes, free meals ahead.

    Should limit one happy meal per Politician and the rest should be taxed.

  3. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    To: David Shapiro

    I hope you submitted testimony in opposition to the bill. It’s not enough to fulminate on/in a blog. You have to submit something which becomes part of the formal record.

  4. hipoli Says:

    Oh come on, Dave. You know something has to be done. As it stands, Les Kondo may as well be walking around the Capitol with a ‘Who’s Your Daddy’ tshirt on, deciding who and what events these legislators can or cant go to. Only theres also a big red builseye mark on the back of that shirt, too.

    Look, why does it seem like we are trying to reinvent the wheel here? Some eager reporter should gather, analyze, and report other states laws on this – and how does it compare to ours and that which is being proposed? There must be a balanced, reasonable solution out there.

  5. David Shapiro Says:

    hipoli, the current law that Kondo is correctly enforcing says no soliciting or accepting gifts that can be reasonably inferred as intended to influence or reward legislators in the performance of their duties. How much simpler can it get? Kondo isn’t deciding what they can or can’t go to. They can go to anything they want that they pay for, just like you and me.

    The problem is that legislators who are used to wearing the “who’s your daddy” shirts and those who operate in their realm and are used to genuflecting to them can’t see the ethics for the trees anymore. What needs to be done is that they need to start erring on the side of good ethics instead of inventing exceptions.

  6. hipoli Says:

    I understand what youre saying. I haven’t studied this law-but how old is it? If its old as dirt (like Sir Charles), shouldn’t there be talk about it’s application to modern times? My point is it seems to me that the law does need to be updated–and there must be more than enough examples to consider.

    And yes, I’m trying to call Sir Charles into this exchange. I’m curious what he thinks about it.

  7. Kolea Says:

    I am a bit stunned at how clumsily this issue is being managed by my buddies in the Lege. I notice the two names being blamed for this lousy bill are the Majority Leaders from each chamber. Which suggests this attempt to relax the ethics restrictions has the support of the majority in their respective caucuses.

    I have no trouble with legislators getting free tickets to events like the HIPA gathering, so long as the dinner and “freebies” do not exceed the “rubber chicken” standard. BUt I think the ticket should be provided by the event organizers and not “sponsored” by some lobbyist.

    But this bill goes much further than that. It allows members to solicit gifts from those doing business with the state? WTH?

    It allows for free travel expenses, flights and hotel stays(?), out of state, even out-of-country. Again, WTH?

    This is amazingly tone-deaf. And it has the potential of being as bad of a PR disaster as approving the 36% pay raise at a time everyone else was getting pay cuts. This had better not pass in a form close to its current iteration It started as a classic, Les Ihara, “good government” genuine reform bill. It has morphed into its evil opposite. Maybe it will morph back towards the Light before the session ends?

  8. Michael Says:

    Then his comments would be mud.

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