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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

SB 671, SD2, HD1

Relating to

House Committee on Judiciary (JUD) - chair: Keith-Agaran, vice chair: Rhoads

Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 2:00 p,m. Conference Room 325

Testifier: Jean Aoki, Legislative Committee, LWV of Hawaii

Click here to view SB671, SD2

Chair Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair Rhoads, members of the Committee on Judiciary,

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly opposes SB 671, SD2, HD1 Relating to Ethics.

This “Ethics” bill makes a mockery of the State Ethics code. Chapter 84-11, Gifts (a) says everything that needs to be said, in compliance with our Ethics code. The exemptions from Chapter 84-11 as provided by (b) makes the proposed H.D.1 totally unacceptable.

From our interpretation, what this bill says is that acceptance of an invitation or admittance ticket from a charitable entity to a charitable event even if the charitable entity is not the sponsor of the charitable event shall not be construed to be in violation of Chapter 84-11 (a). That gift, according to this bill, is definitely not intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of their official duties nor be seen as a reward for past actions. Why would the charitable entity spend hundreds and thousands of dollars inviting government officials to the fundraiser?

The definition of chartitable entity has been changed from only 501 (c) (3)s to an entity that has received recognition of tax exempt status under section 501 (c)of the Internal Revenue Code or recognition as a nonprofit corporation under chapter 414D. I'm assuming this broadens the base of individuals and organizations who qualify since IRS recognition is more difficult to get.

What complicates this more is that the charitable entity does not even have to be the sponsor of the fundraiser. Obviously an error, the definition of “charitable event” is : “ a fundraiser sponsored by a charitable entity (emphasis added) that is held specifically for the purpose of raising money for a specific beneficial purpose.” But (b) (1) says that the charitable entity does not have to be the sponsor or host of the fundraiser. Obviously the government officials are not going to be the sponsors, so the third party must be the sponsors in these cases.

The only feasible explanation is that the legislators and other government officials are being used to lure moneyed interests, lobbyists, corporations, unions, etc. to buy tables to the fund raiser with promises of access to legislators and government officials. We do not wish our government officials used in this way, nor the integrity of our government compromised in this way.

Chapter 84-11 (b) (1) is bad enough, (b) (2) is really bad. Deemed not in violation of our ethics code is the acceptance of an invitation hosted or sponsored by any official governmental entity, whether local, within the State, outside the State, or; outside the country.

Do we want the newly authorized rail authority spending our excise tax dollars feting our legislators to a sumptuous dinner to try to talk them into authorizing more taxing authority for the City Council to raise more money for rail? Or do we want foreign governments hosting our governor or legislators in their countries for any reason? Yes, there is provision for reporting these events and the fund raisers, but while transparency is necessary in all cases, it is not a license for unethical behavior.

There is justification for election campaign contributions. Campaigning is necessary to connect with voters, and campaigning costs money. But what justification is there for gifts powerful enough to override the negative implications, real or perceived, to risk our citizens' trust in the integrity of our government, or for some, to further ingrain in them a distrust of government.

We ask that you hold the bill in committee, or restore it to the original SB 671, a real ethics bill. Thank you for allowing our testimony.


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