Chair Rhoads, Vice Chair Har and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters strongly supports HB 601, intended to "advance the public trust" in our public servants by eliminating practices and implementing requirements that would help our state officials and employees to "avoid even the appearance of impropriety or any conflict of interest."
No matter what excuse is given, the general public finds it implausible that legislative interns who are compensated employees of private companies do not have any lobbying influence on the legislators in whose offices they work. Even when the individual intern is not assigned work related to their company's direct interest, this practice can build a culture of "quid pro quo" between the firm and the legislator. This in-kind donation of labor is a very expensive "gift" and the arragement may also provide confidential information to the private employer, even if the interns are not specifically lobbying our lawmakers on legislation. This amendment to prohibit employees of private companies from serving as interns in our legislature is long overdue.
The League of Women Voters belives in providing adequate resources to government to do its job. All staff should be paid for by taxpayers. While "business interns" may seem beneficial to legislators in terms of having the intern's particular expertise and/or saving staff costs, the price is too high if it means the erosion of the public's confidence in the integrity of government.
Furthermore, considering the increased campaign speding by super PAcs since 2010 and the increase in negative campaigning against candidates (as we experienced in our 2012 Honolulu mayoral race), we also support language in the bill to improve the clarity of lobbying expenditure reports. These reports should certainly include any money spent to help elect or defeat any candidate for office, or pass or defeat any proposed measure in elections. We presume here that the expenses referred to would not otherwise be reported under H.R.S. Chapter 11, our State Campaign Spending Law.
Regarding excluded gifts, we are aware that the Ethics Commission receives few reports of gifts from public employees, so it may be helpful to provide more specificity about what constitutes a "gift."
We also note that with approval the lengthening to two years for the time a former legislator must wait before becoming the representative of any person or business at our legislature. We do not want the infamous revolving door model of Washington, D.C. to become a fixture of our Hawaii State government.
If our lawmakers truly wish to "avoid the appearance of impropriety and any conflict of interest,"
these amendments to our State ethics and lobbying laws are reasonable.
We strongly urge you to PASS this bill Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony..