Hawaii’s ethics rules sure seem to be resonating with lawmakers.

Several turned away bottles of wine given as a holiday gift from a solar-energy company.

And now, lawmakers’ allergic reaction to the gift has prompted the company to take back all of the bottles and issue an apology to the recipients.

Jon Yoshimura, the company’s government affairs director, was clearly embarrassed by the incident.

“It was clearly a mistake on my part,” he said when reached by phone in Washington D.C.

SolarCity, a San Mateo, Calif.-based firm that entered the Hawaii market earlier this year, sent lawmakers two bottles of wine, valued at $55.

An accompanying holiday card obtained by Civil Beat reads: “Thank you for your partnership with SolarCity in 2011. In appreciation, we’ve enclosed two bottles of wine from King Estate Winery.”

Yoshimura, a registered lobbyist for the company, said approximately 50 to 60 lawmakers received the gifts.

“I thought that it would be OK because my company’s new to the state. I just wanted to deliver a gift of goodwill and appreciation. But after talking to Les (Kondo), I see the interpretation of the law, and I agree and that’s why were trying to take remedial action as soon as possible,” he said.

To that end, Yoshimura sent the gift recipients an email on Wednesday:

“I have been informed by Mr. Les Kondo, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, that the gift of wine given to you by SolarCity is inappropriate and must be returned,” he wrote. “I am so sorry to have put you in this position and sincerely apologize for our mistake. I will have our employees retrieve the wine from you at the earliest possible convenience, before the start of the 2012 legislative session.”

It’s against Hawaii law for legislators to accept a gift if it’s obvious that the gift is meant to influence or reward the lawmaker. The state’s Ethics Code requires them to “disclose annually a gift or gifts that exceed $200 in value received from a single source.”

Earlier this year, legislators got heat for accepting an iPad2 and DVD sets from a Hollywood film studio. Two dozen of the DVD sets are unaccounted for, but the iPad was returned.

In the case of the wine, Kondo said the Ethics Commission received calls from lawmakers asking about the gift’s appropriateness. Kondo said he reached out to Yoshimura “as a courtesy” to discuss them in light of Hawaii’s gift law.

Kondo said the gift is inappropriate for both its dollar value and because of the part of the gift law that says state employees cannot accept gifts if it can “reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence … or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator’s or employee’s part.”

Gifts of Aloha

“The commission has interpreted that to mean that tangible gifts above gifts of aloha — flower lei or a box of manapua — or a gift of nominal value, those are likely to be inconsistent with the gift law and ethics code,” Kondo said.

The commission this month sent out a memo reminding lawmakers and department heads of the commission’s position on gifts.

“As a precaution and in response to inquiries that we have received, legislators and employees are reminded that not all holiday gifts or invitations may be accepted under the State Ethics Code,” the memo said. “The State Ethics Code prohibits a legislator or employee from accepting any gift, including a holiday gift, if it is reasonable to infer that the gift is intended to influence or reward official action. This prohibition also applies to meals, receptions, and holiday parties, which are considered ‘gifts.'”

In addition to Wednesday’s email, SolarCity’s Yoshimura sent one on Monday offering to take back the wine from lawmakers who didn’t want to accept it.

He wrote that in response to “a number of offices” declining the gifts due to ethics guidelines, SolarCity would be making arrangements to collect the wine before the legislative session begins next month. He said the wine — which he described as “a small token of our appreciation” — would be donated to local nonprofits.

At the time, Yoshimura noted that the company would report the gifts and their value to the Ethics Commission.

While SolarCity announced in July that it was entering the Hawaii market, the company testified in February against a bill before the Hawaii Legislature.

SolarCity strongly opposed House Bill 1270, which would have repealed certain tax credits and tax exemptions, including the Renewable Energy Technologies Income Tax Credit. The bill ultimately stalled.

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