Use any public elevator at the state Capitol when the Hawaii Legislature is in session and chances are you’ll see a host of fliers and posters on the walls advertising for a charitable cause.
A bake sale out of a lawmakers’ office to benefit the Foodbank. A plate lunch deal to benefit the Salvation Army. A blood drive for the Hawaii Blood Bank.
But the Hawaii State Ethics Commission’s recent rebuke of a rookie lawmaker for using a legislative aide to email a plea to raise money for a girls’ softball team raises fresh questions about even these charity causes.
The Red Cross? Heart Walk? The Girl Scouts?
According to Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo, all of those are private charities — and the state ethics code forbids the use of state resources — including legislative staff and office equipment — for those private business purposes.
“The only exception really is AUW (Aloha United Way),” Kondo said.
State employees even receive pledge cards each year giving them an option to donate a portion of their salary to the charity.
“It sounds very odd, but the reason why there’s the exception is, historically, a previous governor — I’m not sure which — had declared in essence … that AUW was a charity that was supported by the state. And because of that, the bake sales and fundraisers (for AUW) are from an ethics commission standpoint OK.”
His response may catch some Capitol regulars by surprise — they’ve been holding fundraisers for other worthy causes for years. Fliers posted in the elevator typically must be stamped and signed, indicating official approval.
Nonetheless, if legislative staffers used state resources to put any of those fliers together — or used legislative time or offices to organize — they violated the ethics code.
“The statute is very clear,” he said. “The enforcement part I don’t know about, but the office’s position on this issue has been consistent for years.”
“Likely it falls into the same category as the Gil Riviere solicitation — good nonprofits that do good work for the state. But state employees are not supposed to be using state resources to benefit those entities,” Kondo said.
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