UH ticket requests questioned
Sugar Bowl seats for a Lingle campaign donor are among possible ethics violations
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A key state senator and top aides to Gov. Linda Lingle went directly to University of Hawaii administrators to buy prime seats for the Sugar Bowl after UH sold out of its initial allotment of tickets, e-mails obtained by the Star-Bulletin show.
UH-Manoa used state funds to pay about $200,000 for the travel of family members not on official state business. The chancellor says the expenses are justified and is hoping the Ethics Commission will clarify the issue.
The actions appear to violate state ethics laws.
Government officials cannot use their position to secure "any warranted advantages or preferential treatment," even if they plan to pay for tickets, said state Ethics Commission executive director Dan Mollway.
He said the commission would look into the matter.
Lenny Klompus, senior adviser to Gov. Linda Lingle, asked UH administrators about the availability of tickets for a large donor to Lingle's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, the records show.
Using his governor's office e-mail account, Klompus also asked for tickets for Attorney General Mark Bennett and Civil Defense Director Maj. Gen. Robert Lee.
Also asking for tickets and for hotel rooms from the university's allotment was Sen. Shan Tsutsui, the vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the university's budget.
The e-mails and other documents were released by the university in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Star-Bulletin.
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In a potential violation of state ethics laws, a top aide to Gov. Linda Lingle helped a large contributor to Lingle's 2002 election campaign buy hard-to-get Sugar Bowl tickets using governor's office resources, e-mails obtained by the Star-Bulletin show.
But Lenny Klompus, Lingle's senior adviser, wasn't the only official using his position and state government resources to try to buy tickets after the University of Hawaii sold out of its initial allotment of tickets on Dec. 4.
UH records also show that state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, vice chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for the university's budget in the Legislature, asked UH-West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni and UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw for Sugar Bowl tickets and two rooms from the university's allotment of hotel rooms at the New Orleans Marriott. He asked to buy the tickets and pay for the rooms.
Klompus also e-mailed former athletic director Herman Frazier and associate athletic director John McNamara on Dec. 5 to ask about the availability of tickets on behalf of two Cabinet members -- Attorney General Mark Bennett and Civil Defense Director Maj. Gen. Robert Lee.
An e-mail sent from Klompus' office on Dec. 15 asked the UH-Manoa chancellor's office to buy two tickets for former Haseko Construction Co. executive Kenneth Choate and his wife Donna.
Kenneth Choate donated $6,000 to Lingle's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, state records show. The Federal Election Commission Web site also shows Choate donated $2,500 to the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign and $1,000 to the Hawaii Republican Party in 2005.
State Ethics Commission executive director Dan Mollway said the agency will now be examining the distribution of Sugar Bowl tickets to state officials.
"There's a question of fairness," Mollway said, speaking in general terms. "If you're basically using your official position to get special access to tickets that a member of the public wouldn't, we would see that as a violation (of state ethics laws)."
In a frenzy following the announcement that UH would go to the Sugar Bowl, the university sold out of its initial allotment of 8,500 tickets for the public. More than 350 season-ticket holders were put on a waiting list and ticket scalpers were getting up to $350 for good seats with a face value of $125.
"We made it absolutely clear that if tickets were available at the end of the day, then it would be great if we would be able to purchase them," Klompus said, adding he may have spoken verbally to university administrators. "We would never, ever take a ticket away from anyone else."
Klompus said he didn't know if they would get the tickets until the last minute.
Tsutsui, a season-ticket holder, said: "I just asked if it was possible. If they told me I needed to do it in a different way, then I would have done it in a different way."
And Bennett said: "I didn't ask for a favor. I asked whether there were tickets available for sale and ultimately I didn't do anything."
The attorney general said he and his wife were thinking about going to the game in New Orleans, but decided against it.
Mollway noted that the Ethics Commission is also looking into whether the university acted appropriately in paying for travel for spouses and children to the Sugar Bowl. Depending on the issues raised, Mollway said the attorney general's office might be called to give a legal opinion.
Lee said he and his son attended the game, but got "no special price, no special seats."
"I'm not a season-ticket holder, but I lucked out," Lee said, adding that he also paid his own way.
UH records show the Choates, Lee and Tsutsui were put on the list of Hinshaw's official delegation with UH regents and major donors to the university seated on the lower level around the 40- or 50-yard line of the Superdome.
The UH Warriors lost the New Year's game in New Orleans 41-10 to Georgia.
The university invited the governor and a guest to go to the Sugar Bowl at university expense. But Klompus said the governor paid her own way and the state picked up the tab for her security detail.
Klompus, who normally travels with the governor, attended the Sugar Bowl with his wife. Klompus also paid his own way.
Mollway, who said he could only speak generally on ethics issues and not about specific cases, noted that in making a request, especially if a state official is using government e-mails, there needs to be a legitimate state purpose.
"If someone is simply asking for something when there's no state purpose involved, by making that request an issue is raised," Mollway said.