The Hawaii State Ethics Commission closed the book Monday on violations of the state lobbyist law by Relativity Media, a California-based film company. The company got in ethical hot water in 2011 after failing to disclose gifts of movie DVDs to Hawaii lawmakers.
The commission forced the company to shell out $8,500 to the state, more than four times as much as was required in two other lobbyist law-related cases made public this year.
But it was a slap on the wrist for a company that has grossed more than $17 billion producing more than 200 movies, including Bridesmaids, Atonement and Despicable Me.
On top of paying the fine, Relativity Media was required to investigate which elected officials received its gifts and file an amended lobbyist disclosure. The DVDs were left on a table as free giveaways during a meeting with around 15-20 lawmakers, and the company said it “unfortunately did not keep track of exactly who took the boxes.”
Relativity Media declined to comment for this story.
State ethics law requires lobbyists to disclose the names of the elected officials to whom lobbyists give gifts of more than $25 per day or more than $150 per reporting period. Lawmakers are also required to report gifts received worth more than $200.
The law prohibits lawmakers from accepting any gifts that are intended as political influence.
Because each box of DVDs was worth between $100 and $360 and the company made 25 available, the gifts were worth up to $9,000. In its Sept. 27 lobbyist disclosure, the company estimated the cost of the DVDs at zero, saying that they were received as part of its production contracts.
Civil Beat reported in 2011 that 11 lawmakers received the DVDs, including six co-sponsors of a bill to make tax credits more generous for companies like Relativity Media that produce films in Hawaii.
The commission’s investigation showed that a total of 17 lawmakers received DVDs, although not all lawmakers were required to report the gifts because some were worth less than $200.
In addition to failing to report the details of the DVD gifts, Relativity Media was months late in filing two of its required lobbyist disclosure reports.
In 2011, Hawaii lawmakers accepted more than $137,000 in gifts. Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to ease restrictions regarding the acceptance of gifts, including in the 2012 and 2011 sessions.
The ethics commission published the details of the Relativity Media case on its website in order to educate the public on ethics rules. The details of the case can be found here (pdf).
Earlier this year, the commission published the details of two other cases involving violations of the state lobbyist law. Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference were required to pay $2,000 and $1,000 respectively for failing to file lobbyist reports and for filing inaccurate reports.
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