Funding for Lingle trip not illegal, official says
A legislator questions the process but makes no specific accusation
In a reply to a Democratic lawmaker's questions, state Attorney General Mark Bennett says he has found nothing criminal in how Gov. Linda Lingle's administration selected a nonprofit to handle donations to fund a trade mission to China last year.
In late February, House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro requested a summary from Bennett of "steps that will be taken by your department to investigate possible violations of procurement laws" by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
The nonprofit Pacific & Asia Affairs Council was hired to handle finances for the China trip and paid about $7,000 out of corporate donations collected to fund the mission.
The role of the attorney general's office would be to investigate any allegations or evidence of criminal violations.
No one has made that allegation, and Bennett said in a telephone interview yesterday that he found "no evidence of a criminal violation."
"If we saw any evidence of a criminal violation -- which we have not -- we would either investigate it ourselves, or if faced with a conflict of interest, refer the matter to a county prosecutor," Bennett wrote in his letter to Oshiro dated March 3.
There would be a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict in the event of a criminal case, because the attorney general's office gave counsel on this specific matter to the department and therefore members of the office would probably be called as witnesses, Bennett said.
General auditing and monitoring of the process are the responsibility of the state Procurement Office, the state procurement officer and, under certain circumstances, the compliance audit unit of the state Office of the Auditor, Bennett wrote.
"So in answer to his very specific question to me in 'what steps are you going to undertake,' what I laid out is why we don't get involved in just procurement violation issues generally because statutes provide who has that jurisdiction," Bennett said.
Telephone messages left by the Associated Press for state Procurement Office Administrator Aaron Fujioka were not immediately returned yesterday.
As he sat yesterday thumbing through a fat file of documents covering Lingle's trips, Oshiro said he is not satisfied and is still waiting to see copies of the contracts drawn up for the Pacific & Asia Affairs Council and other businesses that provided services for the trips. "This is just the first layer," Oshiro said.