The informal decision came in response to a request from Tim Johns, vice chair of the APEC Hawaii Host Committee. Johns asked Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo for an opinion on the “appropriateness” of offering to pay for lawmakers to attend four events, one of which is valued at $750.
Kondo told commission members he and his staff viewed the gifts as OK, but wanted to share the request and gauge if commissioners felt differently.
Tickets to pricey fundraising events became the hot-button ethics issue of the 2011 legislative session. A ruling against accepting such tickets became a catalyst for lawmakers’ efforts to water down Hawaii’s gift law, including allowing legislators to accept “charitable gifts” from labor unions and business groups. The attempts failed.
In the case of the APEC events, Kondo said the donor — the APEC Hawaii Host Committee — is key. He also said the presence of lawmakers would serve as a public benefit.
“Our staff’s feeling was that it was OK given the purpose, given as we call it now the state benefit,” Kondo said. “But because it was relatively high in value and high-cost, and because of the publicity that APEC is going to get and is getting, we wanted the commission to see (the request), and if the commission felt differently, we wanted to discuss it with the commission.”
Johns wrote that the committee wants to invite all lawmakers to the four events. “Attendance by legislators at these events is necessary to best achieve the important state purpose underlying the state of Hawaii’s bid for the APEC forum to be hosted by the United States in Honolulu.”
He identified the committee as “a Hawaii nonprofit corporation that was organized to advance Hawaii’s business agenda in the Asia-Pacific region and to create high-quality opportunities for private-sector engagement during the APEC forum.”
These are the events highlighted in the letter:
Asia-Pacific Business Symposium, Nov. 9-10. Registration fees for the workshop, including meals, is $750 per attendee.
Welcome reception, Nov. 10. No charge to attend, but the approximate cost is $100.
International Trade Reception, Nov. 11. No charge to attend, but the approximate cost is $100.
International Cultural Reception, Nov. 12. No charge to attend, but the approximate cost is $100.
Kondo is expected to respond with a formal letter.
Ethics Commission Chairwoman Maria Sullivan asked Kondo to be stress the commission’s rationale in his response.
“Basically the staff’s position is that there’s sufficient public benefit to their attendance at these various receptions and it’s a benefit to the state to have these people present, including their guests?” Sullivan asked.
“Yes, and also, in part, we looked at who the donor was, and it’s not a lobbyist or some other kind of organization,” Kondo replied.
“I would make it real strong, though, in the letter as to the public benefit because we often have these $100, $200 receptions which I think, well, no, you can’t go,” Sullivan said. “Just lay out the rationale very clearly.”
Commissioner Jacqueline Kido added: “And your host point is well taken — the hosts are totally community people and not special-interest.”