Friday, March 25, 2011
A grab bag of legislative invitations
by Larry Geller
So what’s it like to be a Hawaii state legislator? I think it’s one of the toughest jobs in the state. Long hours, great responsibilities. Some decisions directly affect life and death. They also are in great demand for fundraisers and business and community events of all kinds. It’s part of the job. They get lots of invitations. That’s how politics works anywhere.
Now, I don’t suggest that it’s all parties and pupus. But the parties are part of it, and the subject of SB671, a bill that’s had its final hearing and which would allow a wide range of organizations to offer legislators and state workers endless parties, golf, junkets, even international trips. Note that those state workers include officials responsible for regulating the businesses that may invite them to, for example, a party in Vegas.
Maybe some Hawaii legislators want to pass SB671 because they could be already in trouble with the gift law? Do you think? At a recent hearing of the House Judiciary committee, lawmakers demonstrated, one after another, by their questions to the Ethics Commission ED, that they didn’t understand the current law.
Right now there are limits. A gift law has been in place for many years. For example, legislators don’t have to worry if the gift is a small customary gift. In simplifying the law for the benefit of apparently clueless committee members, those were described as “gifts of Aloha,” by Les Kondo, the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission. Gifts that have “eBay value” should cause lawmakers to think before accepting.
Under the proposed new law, it would be open season on gift-giving. Of course, that’s tantamount to legalizing bribery and promoting corruption in politics.
The group of invitations below do raise some red flags. For example, if the invitation says “You are welcome to bring a guest” and they do, have they doubled the value of the gift they have received from the sponsoring organization? What state function does bringing a spouse or other family member serve?
Does a “Stew Challenge” sound like something that will bring industry knowledge to legislators who attend? Maybe, but it’s a building industry event. At least they made sure the value is under the accepted limit of $25 per lawmaker.
Some invitations offer attendees the chance to meet legislators. Probably nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s nothing “wrong” with having a legislator over for dinner, within the rules.
One invitation states the cost of the event would be $36.75, so legislators would have to pay for themselves. The organization went to the trouble of checking with the Ethics Commission (good job!).
Hmm… There’s one with a pitch: “How to Reduce Taxes, Increase Income and Preserve Your Estate Through Charitable Giving.” All I can say is “hmm….”
Here is a small collection of invitations to give you an idea, just a sample, of the kind of events that legislators are invited to right now. If SB671 passes, parties can be expected to become more lavish and more frequent.
Of course that would happen. Legislators, through SB671, would be sending their own invitations to all these organizations, “we’re open for business, just invite us along!”
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