What’s important for Hawaii lawmakers and the Abercrombie administration this year?

The answer, it would seem: Making sure charitable events are not deprived of the presence of lawmakers and state employees.

Last year, Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo raised some hackles when he ruled that lawmakers couldn’t accept $200 tickets to attend a fundraiser for the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs. HIPA’s president and CEO is Bill Kaneko, former campaign manager for Gov. Neil Abercrombie and now one of his closest advisers.

Lawmakers right away went to work to lift the limit on gifts. They gutted a good-government bill and turned it into a good-for-lawmakers bill.

But it didn’t work.

So this year the governor stepped in, with a much more focused approach. It must be good to have friends in high places.

House Bill 2457 is his proposal to address the pressing problem of lawmakers and state employees not being able to accept free tickets to charitable events. There’s also a bill in the Senate, SB 2719.

Now, it seems, our state’s leaders are saying here’s the way it should be: You, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, should give to charities by paying to attend their fundraisers. It’s good for Hawaii. We, our state’s noble lawmakers and the men and women who work in state government — sometimes known as public servants — should not have to pay to grace charitable events with our presence.

You understand, of course. We’re important. Without us, what kind of occasion would a charitable event be?

And so, we will do our duty and accept invitations and complimentary tickets for a “widely attended charitable event from a charitable entity, whether or not the charitable entity is the host of the charitable event.”

Yes, we will agree to let the people know in our ethics filings that we received such a gift, although only the “actual” value, not the face value of a ticket. That’s the least we can do.

It will reassure the public that the public trust has not been broken by our trips to the open bars and salad bars. They shall be comforted knowing that golf tournaments will be off limits. Those are bad. But whale-watching trips with chateaubriand and cabernet? Those may be good. And we’re sure charities can come up with some other good-time ideas, too.

It’s hard to imagine how anybody could come to the conclusion that these bills are consistent with state law, which states that gifts cannot be accepted if “it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of the legislator’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator’s or employee’s part.”

What ever happened to the idea that lawmakers and state employees can pay to attend whatever events they’d like?

Just like the rest of us.

Lawmakers are either going to be leaders or freeloaders.

If one of these bills becomes law, it will be clear which role they’ve chosen.

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