The Hawaii State Ethics Commission has five members appointed by the governor. It provides ethical oversight for all state employees and officials. The commission’s duties include issuing advisory opinions, investigation of alleged violations of ethics and lobbying laws, as well as providing guidance and education for government officials, employees and citizens regarding ethics in government.
Les Kondo was named executive director of the commission in January 2011. Kondo, a veteran government official and former private litigator, has drawn attention during his tenure at the Ethics Commission.
During the legislative session, for example, he issued an opinion barring lawmakers from accepting $200 tickets to a fundraiser held by the politically influential Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs.
In May, Kondo said members of a state Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force may have violated ethics laws, ruling that task force members are state employees and therefore subject to the state’s Ethics Code.
The Ethics Commission opposed the most controversial ethics bill considered in the 2011 legislative session. Senate Bill 671 attempted to water down Hawaii’s gift law, including allowing legislators to accept “charitable gifts” from labor unions and business groups.
Ultimately, the bill was scrapped after public outcry from good-government groups and push back from the Ethics Commission.
Article XIV of the state constitution called for the formation of the Ethics Commission.
The article was added during the 1978 Constitutional Convention.
Article XIV says:
“The people of Hawaii believe that public officers and employees must exhibit the highest standards of ethical conduct and that these standards come from the personal integrity of each individual in government. To keep faith with this belief, the legislature, each political subdivision and the constitutional convention shall adopt a code of ethics which shall apply to appointed and elected officers and employees of the State or the political subdivision, respectively, including members of the boards, commissions and other bodies.
“Each code of ethics shall be administered by a separate ethics commission, except the code of ethics adopted by the constitutional convention which shall be administered by the state ethics commission. The members of ethics commissions shall be prohibited from taking an active part in political management or in political campaigns. Ethics commissioners shall be selected in a manner which assures their independence and impartiality.”
Commissioners are responsible for enforcing the following ethics and lobbying laws:
- State Ethics Code, Chapter 84, Hawaii Revised Statutes (Standards of conduct applicable to all state government officials and employees, excluding justices and judges)
- Financial Disclosure Law, Section 84-17, Hawaii Revised Statutes (Financial interests disclosure requirements applicable to elected and appointed state officials and employees and to candidates for state elective office)
- Gifts Disclosure Law, Section 84-11.5, Hawaii Revised Statutes (Gifts reporting requirement applicable to state government officials and employees)
- Mandatory Ethics Training Law, Section 84-42, Hawaii Revised Statutes (Ethics training requirement applicable to state government leaders and executive department heads)
- State Lobbyists Law, Chapter 97, Hawaii Revised Statutes (Lobbyist registration requirements and reporting requirements for lobbying expenditures and contributions)
The commission has five members. The commission’s website says: “The Judicial Council (a state board attached to the Hawaii Supreme Court) nominates two individuals for each vacancy on the commission. The nominees’ names are sent to the Governor, who selects one of the nominees for appointment to the Commission. Senate confirmation is not required.”
Each commissioner serves a four-year term and cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms. Commissioners cannot hold public office, or take part in political campaigns. The position is unpaid.
The commissioners are:
- Maria J. Sullivan, Chairperson
- Leolani Abdul, Vice chair
- Jacqueline Kido
- Les Knudsen
- Edward L. Broglio
The impact of the ethics commission stems primarily from its advisory opinions and informal advisory opinionsthat guide lawmakers and public employees on ethics interpretation. Essentially, these opinions can be used to gauge, for example, what sorts of gifts politicians can accept and how and in what timeframe those gifts would have to be publicly disclosed.
Three of the commission’s primary oversight duties are the collection and inspection of public financial disclosures, gift disclosures and lobbyist disclosures. These disclosures are used by good-government groups and media organizations to scrutinize the political and financial ties of lawmakers and other public employees.
The commission can issue financial penalties if public officials or state employees violate ethics laws. Penalty sums can vary depending on the violation.
The commission also testifies on legislation introduced at the Legislature. It provides opinions on how ethics laws might affect pending legislation. The opinion of the ethics commission can be weighty.
1001 Bishop Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
P.O. Box 616
Honolulu, HI 96809
Phone: (808) 587-0460
Fax: (808) 587-0470