Posted tagged ‘ethics’

Senators fight for the right to freeload

March 8, 2011

Update: Final reading on SB 671 was delayed 48 hours after the Senate amended it again today to limit the free tickets public officials can accept to fundraisers of IRS 501(c)(3) organizations (public charities and private foundations). Language was deleted that would have also allowed free admission to events sponsored by non-charitable tax-exempt groups such as chambers of commerce, trade associations and labor unions.


The hearty appetite of Hawai‘i legislators for free meals and other goodies is an issue that won’t seem to die this session.

Common Cause put out an alert that a new version of SB 671, which it dubs the “Gifts Law,” is up for final reading in the Senate today.

The latest draft strips out language that would have allowed lawmakers and other public officials to accept or even solicit gifts worth up to $200 from just about anybody seeking to influence their actions.

But the new version would still allow legislators to accept free admission to charitable events, even if the provider of the gift isn’t the host of the event.

Presumably, the freebies would apply not only to the ubiquitous fundraising dinners, but also to charitable events such as golf tournaments, wine tastings and fashion shows.

And the legislation broadly defines a “charitable entity” to go well beyond the social service organizations we usually think of charities to include business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, trade associations and labor unions — all of which have lobbying interests before the Legislature that are far from charitable.

It’s a back door that allows special interests of virtually all kinds to wine and dine legislators from whom they are seeking officials favors, and there’s no credible argument that it’s in the public interest to allow such freebies to be offered or accepted.

Also difficult to swallow is the aversion our lawmakers have to paying their own way into charitable events like everybody else.

It doesn’t even have to come out of their own pockets; they pushed a campaign spending law amendment a few years years ago to allow elected officials to cover charitable donations from their campaign funds.

Hawai‘i lawmakers hunger for free meals

March 1, 2011

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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