Gathering Place

By Daniel J. Mollway

Legislature failed, failed,
failed to pass ethics reform

The Legislature's attempt this session to pass ethics reform legislation was a dismal failure. The following is a summary of seven ethics reform "no brainers" heard and killed by the Legislature this session.

>> First, the Legislature failed to expand the state ethics code's conflicts of interest law. Under current law, a conflict arises only when a state official takes action affecting, for example, a business in which the official or the official's spouse or dependent child has a financial interest.

The Legislature failed to expand the law to include the financial interests of other immediate family members, such as siblings, parents and emancipated children, as well as household members. A state official is thus free, for example, to award a hefty contract to a company owned by his or her adult child. This does not encourage confidence in state government.

>> The Legislature failed to reduce the threshold for disclosing gifts from the current $200 to a more sensible $100. Thus, disclosure is required only when a state official accepts gifts singly or in the aggregate in excess of $200 from June 1 of one year to June 1 of the next year. More transparency in the area of gift-giving is definitely warranted.

>> The Legislature failed to close "loopholes" in the state ethics code's financial interests disclosure law. Thus, state officials do not have to report their financial interests in businesses or property outside of Hawaii. This makes little sense in today's world.

The Legislature also failed to amend the law to require the disclosure of the names of clients who contribute more than $25,000 to the business of a state official, or income of 25 percent or more of a state official's business. Thus, state officials are only required to report the name of a business in which they have a financial interest, even if the business obtains most of its income from a single client. This hides major sources of income, contrary to the intent of the disclosure law.

>> The Legislature also failed to pass legislation that would have barred companies from paying for or supplementing a state official's salary. Accepting all or part of one's salary from a few businesses creates conflicts and makes the official beholden to his or her benefactors.

>> The Legislature also failed to pass legislation that would have required the disclosure of lawmakers' campaign fund- raisers if held 30 days before the opening of the legislative session, or if held during the legislative session. Passage of such a law would have allowed the public to see whether lawmakers time their campaign fund-raisers around critical legislative dates.

>> Last, the Legislature failed to address lawmakers' own conflicts of interest. A new law in this area would have established a reasonable conflict of interest rule for legislators, along with an appropriate rule for the disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest.

These measures do not require the wisdom of Solomon. Ethics is the cornerstone of democratic government. If lawmakers are unable to address these issues responsibly, something is terribly amiss in the state of Hawaii.

Daniel J. Mollway is executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.


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