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Cookies and plants. Calendars and model canoes. Airline tickets and hotel rooms.
Those are just a few of the gifts donated to elected and appointed officials in the state. By law, they’re reported to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, which posts them online.
Separate from campaign contributions and spending by independent groups trying to influence elections and issues, gifts are usually benign.
Of course, some of them might be perceived as seeking to make nice with someone who may have control over a matter of interest.
That’s why the Ethics Commission makes available a guide to what’s acceptable (modest gifts of aloha from constituents) and what’s not (an upgrade to first-class jet travel).
“The Commission looks at what your job is with the state and how your acceptance of this gift may – or may not – fit within the State’s mission and your job duties,” the Ethics Commission states.
Another big no-no is if the recipient has direct regulatory authority over the giver — “that is, if you decide whether someone gets a permit, or funding, or a citation – then you generally should not accept anything from that person, regardless of its value.”
State officials are only required to report gifts that are over $200 in value — that is, they’re only required to report if they receive one or more gifts totaling over $200 from a single source. But many report lots of gifts under that amount.
I examined many of the recent 2017 filings — especially those of elected politicians — and didn’t come across any gifts that may fall under the commission’s scrutiny. It’s the commission’s job to decide, of course.
But I did detect patterns of gift-giving.
A lot of our officials travel for work, primarily to conferences associated with their jobs. Events hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures are especially popular. Travel, meals, lodging and ground transportation typically cost in excess of $1,000 per trip.
The other most common gifts are far less expensive: food. No surprise, local favorites like manapua and gau are among the most popular.
Here’s a brief list of some of the more interesting gifts, in my view:
Rowena Akana, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, amended her gift disclosure form last week to reflect an increase in the money she has received from Abigail Kawananakoa, the heiress and putative princess.
Civil Beat reported this summer that Kawananakoa gave Akana almost $16,000 for legal fees. Akana now reports that she got another $6,000, although she doesn’t explain what the money is for.
It hardly seems worth it to report a gift that costs just $1, but a number of officials did just that.
They include state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, who said he got sticky notes from the Blue Planet Foundation. Maybe they were autographed by Henk Rogers.
Several state legislators, such as Sens. Michele Kidani and Donovan Dela Cruz, reported a lot of flying. But Attorney General Doug Chin has been especially peripatetic.
Our AG reported about $25,000 in gifted travel expenses for AG-related business. His itinerary included San Diego; San Francisco; Fort Lauderdale; Mexico City; Havana; New York City; Denver; Guam; Portlands (Oregon and Maine); Alexandria, Virginia; Park City, Utah; and Washington, D.C.
There are many officials who say they have been the recipients of food, but state Rep. Della Au Belatti may well (ahem!) take the cake.
Her gift disclosure identifies the following brands and items: Big Island Candies, Island Princess Popcorn, Nisshodo Mochi, Cookie Corner Cookies, Honolulu Cookie Co., Hawaiian Host Macadamia Nuts, Hawaiian Host Caramacs, Maui Manjookies Sampler Pack, Ani’s Bake Shop Butter Cream Rolls, Maui Cookies CookKwee’s (that is not a typo), chocolates, chocolate haupia pie, a box of brownies, li hing mango and more.
It might be a coincidence, but Belatti also reported getting a $3 travel toothbrush from the Hawaii Dental Hygienists’ Association. Probably came in handy.
State Rep. Cindy Evans reported a $5 reusable grocery bag from the Friends of the Library of Hawaii. So green!
State Rep. Cedric Gates received “Jelly Beans in a light bulb” ($8) from the Hawaii Theatre Center. Ouch.
Several officials attached multiple pages to their gift disclosure form, such as David Lassner, the University of Hawaii president.
His six pages include a Chinese Opera Doll display case (“in full custom dress”) valued at $200. It is on display in his office, it seems, and it comes from the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture
Lassner also gets around.
His gifted travel included $4,423 for airfare, partial lodging, partial meals and incidental expenses and ground transportation for the King Kamehameha Statute Draping Ceremony and OHA reception in Washington, D.C.; and travel with the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Hokulea and the World Oceans Day Celebration at the United Nations in New York.
State Rep. Roy Takumi received no less than nine lei, each valued at $8 and all from public schools in Pearl City (Takumi’s district) and Waipahu (right next door).
Rep. Belatti received a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, which she valued at $1.
And yet, state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole reported receiving the very same sandwich from the very same group, but he said it cost $1.50.
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, meantime, said the PB&J from HTY was $2, Takumi said it was $3, Rep. Gregg Takayama said it was $4 and Rep. Marcus Oshiro said it was $5.
I trust that the Ethics Commission will get to the bottom of this shocking discrepancy.
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. gave state Rep. Nadine Nakamura $25 worth of smoked meat, while Paige Heckathorn of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii bought House Speaker Scott Saiki a $17 bottle of wine.
I’ve listed a lot of gifts and gift recipients, but I have not identified too many donors. Here’s a list of the gifts favored by various organization and individuals familiar to many of us: