Thursday, March 31, 2011


Passing SB671 will increase media scrutiny of legislator’s activities

by Larry Geller

Watchful press

Decision making is today for SB671, the bill that has been universally blasted because it would allow 501(c)  corporations to provide legislators with virtually unlimited meals, golf tickets, even junkets to the Mainland and to exotic overseas locations.

That would open the door to wholesale influence buying by chambers of commerce, unions, service providers to the state, contractors, and so many other organizations that it will be like a second income for lawmakers. Why buy your own lunch ever again when the law allows free meals? And for their staff, too, and for other state workers. Update: In my original post this morning I forgot that language in the current draft includes Hawaii Chapter 414D corporations:

"Charitable entity" means an entity that has received recognition of tax exempt status under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code or recognition as a nonprofit corporation under chapter 414D.

It’s very easy to form a 414D non-profit. So that would mean that any for-profit company could form a gift-giving subsidiary that would be legal under the new law. That’s a loophole big enough to drive a Superferry through.

Ok, you know it’s bad. Will that stop the Judiciary committee chair from passing the bill today?

It’s important, I think, to let legislators know that passing a law legalizing bribery doesn’t make it ok.

My parents used to say something like “sprinkling holy water on a pork chop doesn’t make it kosher.” 

Keith-AgaranfundraiserEqually important for legislators and state workers to understand is that their activities are going to be subject to even more scrutiny should this bill pass into law. It still requires disclosure, so sooner or later the media are going to find out how big a ticket each state legislator accepted. We’ll know how many lunches were bought for their staff. How many fundraisers they held during session. Their votes will be examined more carefully than now to ferret out any possibility of influence.

We have tools now that can locate most every announcement, every ad, every invitation.

And I have confidence that the media will do its job. Voters need to know which of their representatives are on the dole and who is sustaining them.

Look, it’s only fair. Our government is talking about increasing our taxes and stealing from our pensions, but they want unlimited freebies for themselves?

Speaking of fundraisers, the illustration above shows that Judiciary Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran held a fundraiser during session, and the day before this ethics bill comes up for decisonmaking before his committee.  Is that against the law? No. But many consider holding fundraisers during session to be questionable, if not unethical. The practice is common enough among a few of our state legislators. It’s questionable because it gives big-buck lobbyists and organizations with business with the state or bills before the Legislature the chance to purchase influence.

Let’s just call a spade a spade. This bill would open up investment opportunities in Hawaii that have not existed before. By neutering the long-standing gift law, corporations will be able to invest in the legislator of their choice, just at the right time to bring maximal returns.

If we were talking philanthropy, that is, giving gifts of money, food or travel to legislators, it could be done after session, when lawmaking is finished (though “thank you” gifts have been prohibited under current law).. The fact that so many legislators beg money during session should concern us all. No, Virginia, it’s not philanthropy. It’s actually a good thing that the Legislature is not in session during Christmas. Santa brings gifts to children if they’re good, but companies and lobbyists contribute money because they expect something in return.

The time to stop this game is now.

SpyLet’s see if Judiciary committee members want to expose all legislators to the kind of scrutiny that passing this bill will bring.

More news after they vote.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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