Golfing perks
fall from favor
at Capitol

State legislators end
their guest privileges
at two exclusive clubs

Leaders of the state House and Senate have cut off the free golfing privileges that some lawmakers have been getting at two of Oahu's most exclusive country clubs.

Legislature 2003
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Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda sent identical letters on Thursday to Honolulu Country Club and Waialae Country Club indicating that they will no longer accept the privileges on behalf of their members.

Say and Bunda also sent memos to lawmakers Friday informing them of their decision. In his memo, Bunda recommended senators stop using the privileges for the rest of the year. Say ordered his members to stop using the privileges immediately.

The move comes after Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez spotlighted the lawmakers' golfing perks in the Nov. 2 "Raising Cane" column.

In the past, the two country clubs granted lawmakers the opportunity to golf on their private courses for the price of renting a golf cart. The clubs waived initiation fees, in the tens of thousand of dollars, monthly membership dues and green fees. The offer typically extends for the duration of the 60-day legislative session.

Neither Say nor Bunda returned calls for comment. However, they offered reasons for their actions in their memos.

Say cited "recent suggestions that our acceptance of such privileges may be construed as inappropriate." He said lawmakers should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in carrying out their duties. Bunda's memo pointed out that "recent news reports and opinions suggest that our continued acceptance could lead to charges of impropriety."

Twelve state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, listed the golf privileges on their gift disclosure forms submitted to the ethics commission in the past two years. However, two indicated they never used the perks.

Others who did golf for free at one or both of the country clubs did not list the item on their gift disclosure forms because they said the value of the number of times they played was less than $200, the minimum threshold for which disclosure is required.

Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kapahulu-Palolo), who has pressed the Senate to take a stricter position regarding ethics reporting, praised Say and Bunda, noting that the decision would "go a long way to eliminate public suspicion that elected officials are getting unwarranted perks. ... The letter says a lot."

The Senate's Republican leader, Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua-Waimanalo), congratulated the Democrats for "taking a stand."

"I don't think small gifts are going to buy legislators, but there is a line to be drawn and it should be conservative," Hemmings said.

But Rep. Bob Nakasone (D, Waikapu-Kahului) said the decision on whether to accept the privileges should be left up to the individual lawmakers. "I think the question should be raised with the ethics commission. I think that would make it clear, and then it would be left to the members to decide one way or the other," he said.

The two memos did not address other gifts to legislators. Some lawmakers also receive a variety of free tickets to charity events and golf tournaments.

Senate Vice President Donna Kim, for instance, reported being the guest of First Hawaiian Bank at six different golf events in the last year. Kim played golf at the Hawaii Prince course and participated in golf tournaments sponsored by Palama Settlement, the Tournament at Kapolei, the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, the Tournament at Waikele and the Rehabilitation Foundation of the Pacific Golf tournament, all as the bank's guest.

Kim, in her ethics commission report, did not put a price tag on any of those outings except for the Rehabilitation Foundation tourney, which she listed at $195.

Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa), who is also chairwoman of the tourism committee, was out of town and unavailable for comment.


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