June 10, 2014 •
At its June 18 meeting, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission will consider whether to issue guidance to state legislators regarding the use of their annual legislative allowance. The state Constitution provides the allowance for each legislator to cover incidental expenses […]
At its June 18 meeting, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission will consider whether to issue guidance to state legislators regarding the use of their annual legislative allowance. The state Constitution provides the allowance for each legislator to cover incidental expenses connected with legislative duties. The funds may not be used for any personal expenses including, but not limited to, gifts, campaign contributions, or food and beverages related to social activities and events.
Several legislators filed complaints with the commission accusing colleagues of using the annual allowance for personal reasons. After reviewing information provided by Senate and House clerks, commission staff identified several disbursements appearing unrelated to a legislator’s official duties.
Congressional leadership argues the responsibility for monitoring the use of the legislative allowance rests with the Legislature. Commission staff, on the other hand, believes monitoring the use and sanctioning the misuse of the allowance falls within the reach of the State Ethics Code.
A detailed list of recommendations for discussion can be found on the Ethics Commission website. Because legislative allowance funds are public funds, the Commission will accept public comments and testimony concerning the use of said funds.
May 1, 2014 •
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 2120 into law April 25. Immediately effective upon executive approval, the legislation corrects a mistaken reference to a section of the Hawaii Revised Code meant to exempt contributions from a candidate’s immediate family […]
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Senate Bill 2120 into law April 25. Immediately effective upon executive approval, the legislation corrects a mistaken reference to a section of the Hawaii Revised Code meant to exempt contributions from a candidate’s immediate family from general statutory contribution limits.
Contributions from immediate family are now limited in the aggregate to $50,000 in any election period, provided the aggregate amount of loans and contributions received from said family does not exceed $50,000 during an election period.
February 10, 2014 •
On February 7, the Senate Committee on Education reviewed testimony from the Hawaii State Ethics Commission regarding its concerns about SB 2423. Introduced in January, the bill authorizes the Department of Education to accept gifts or donations based on criteria […]
On February 7, the Senate Committee on Education reviewed testimony from the Hawaii State Ethics Commission regarding its concerns about SB 2423. Introduced in January, the bill authorizes the Department of Education to accept gifts or donations based on criteria established by the Board of Education. The commission maintains all state agencies and departments should be held to the same standards and codes of conduct; furthermore, it would be unnecessary and imprudent to allow the department to accept gifts contrary to the state ethics code.
SB 2423 also permits schools to participate in charitable fundraising activities in conjunction with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Though perhaps well-intended, the bill is extremely broad and raises numerous concerns in terms of application and oversight.
During its testimony, the commission urged the committee to defer the bill until after the Commission has an opportunity to thoroughly consider the issues involved.
December 10, 2013 •
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission issued an advisory last week urging public school employees to refrain from promoting charitable fundraisers at school. The advisory was issued after Department of Education teachers and administrators were asked to support and encourage students […]
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission issued an advisory last week urging public school employees to refrain from promoting charitable fundraisers at school.
The advisory was issued after Department of Education teachers and administrators were asked to support and encourage students to participate in a popular holiday fundraising campaign for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The state ethics code prohibits state employees from using work time and state resources for non-state related business purposes, which generally include supporting or promoting private charities.
December 10, 2013 •
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration is currently at odds with the City Ethics Commission. Earlier in the year the Commission inquired as to whether the Department of the Corporation Counsel has the power and duty to advise city employees on […]
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration is currently at odds with the City Ethics Commission. Earlier in the year the Commission inquired as to whether the Department of the Corporation Counsel has the power and duty to advise city employees on matters of ethics.
In a memorandum to all municipal agencies, the Department announced it does have said authority; the Ethics Commission disagrees.
The administrative decision may potentially result in city attorneys and Ethics Commission attorneys offering conflicting advice. Also problematic, the Ethics Commission is insulated from retaliation as an autonomous agency, whereas city attorneys are afforded no such protection.
If nothing else, the memo is likely to cause public confusion as the relationship between administration and Commission deteriorates. Subpoenas may be on the horizon for Mayor Caldwell’s top executives as the Ethics Commission investigates possible corruption in city hall.
November 14, 2013 •
On November 12, the Legislature adjourned its second special session sine die. The legislative body convened in October to address marriage equality. Effective December 2, the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013 recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex, […]
On November 12, the Legislature adjourned its second special session sine die. The legislative body convened in October to address marriage equality.
Effective December 2, the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013 recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex, and extends to same-sex couples all rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage.
November 13, 2013 •
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission issued four Informal Advisory Opinions pertaining to a state official’s receipt of complimentary event tickets. A state agency may have a legitimate state interest in giving an agency board member a ticket to an agency […]
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission issued four Informal Advisory Opinions pertaining to a state official’s receipt of complimentary event tickets. A state agency may have a legitimate state interest in giving an agency board member a ticket to an agency event. In that scenario the tickets are not considered “gifts” under Hawaii gift law. Rather, they are “state assets” and distribution must be evaluated in accordance with the fair treatment law under the State Ethics Code.
Agency board officials may accept two complimentary tickets per agency event – one for the official and the other for the official’s spouse or significant other. An official’s use of complimentary tickets for additional personal guests constitutes unfair compensation and is, therefore, prohibited. Moreover, transferring complimentary tickets to family members to attend events in the official’s place is also a likely violation of the fair treatment law.
October 29, 2013 •
Grassroots Activities May be Reportable as Lobbying Expenses
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission issued an ethics advisory in response to inquiries received regarding grassroots lobbying activity during the Legislature’s second special session. The Legislature convened on October 28 to discuss same-sex marriage, and many organizations involved in supporting or opposing the bill may be required to report activities to the commission under Hawaii lobbying law.
Grassroots lobbying activities such as preparing or distributing flyers and other mailers encouraging members of the public to contact their legislators in support of or in opposition to the bill; producing or paying for broadcast, print, or internet media announcements advocating for or against the issue; and organizing sign-waving or rallies to demonstrate support for or against same-sex marriage may all constitute reportable lobbying expenses under Hawaii law.
October 21, 2013 •
New Gift Law Provisions Created
Honolulu Mayor Caldwell and his transitional team came under the review of the city Ethics Commission recently for potential violations of gift law. The Commission found no violations due to a lack of established ethical guidelines but placed restrictions on future donations for inaugural or transitional purposes.
Safeguards put in place to avoid pay-to-play concerns include mandatory public disclosure of all donations, including the amount of and use for each, prohibition against asking current or prospective city officers or employees to solicit or make contributions, and requiring each donor/contributor to confirm he or she is not a registered lobbyist and has no future business with the city in which the administration is likely to be involved.
The Commission further held donations used to support legitimate government purposes, such as the transition between administrations and the official inaugural ceremony, are gifts to the city.
October 14, 2013 •
No Rulings Confirmed
On Wednesday, October 9, a three-judge federal appeals panel heard a challenge to Hawaii’s campaign finance law, paying specific attention to the ban on political contributions by state and county contractors and the spending threshold for triggering disclosure requirements.
Although no rulings have been made, the judges did appear skeptical regarding the constitutionality of the contribution ban on contractors passed by the Legislature in 2005.
August 1, 2013 •
Hawaii and Iowa
Hawaii and Iowa will be seeing some changes in their campaign finance laws as a result of passed bills and court decisions.
In Iowa, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s law requiring groups making independent expenditures to disclose information about their spending, but struck down the part of the law requiring those same groups to file supplemental reports. Under the old law, if a group spent more than $750 on independent expenditures it would be required to file a report within 48 hours, and if the group spent more than $1,000 in expenditures it would be required to file a supplemental report on the 19th of January, May, July, and October. However, in Iowa Right to Life Committee, Inc. v. Tooker, the court held the supplemental reports to be “additional, redundant, and more burdensome.” Therefore, groups making independent expenditures are no longer required to file supplemental reports.
In Hawaii, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed two bills into law. Senate Bill 31 changes the way noncandidate committees, corporations, and other associations active in elections disclose their political spending. In the past, those groups were required to file supplemental reports on January 31 and July 31 only in years following an election. Under the new law, which took effect immediately upon Abercrombie’s signature, the January 31 supplemental report must be filed every year. The bill also requires those groups, when filing the reports, to make a distinction between contributions made and contributions received.
Abercrombie also signed House Bill 1147 into law. This bill, which takes effect November 5, 2014, requires noncandidate committees making only independent expenditures to include, in a prominent location, the names of the top three contributors making the highest aggregate contributions to the noncandidate committee for the purpose of the advertisement. This requirement only applies to advertisements which are broadcasted, televised, circulated, or published, and are of a duration so as not to create a hardship to the committee. The bill also requires a noncandidate committee making an independent expenditure in the last two weeks before an election exceeding $500 to file a late expenditure report.
May 6, 2013 •
Campaign finance bill passes and awaits governor’s signature
The Hawaii State Legislature bid aloha Thursday as it adjourned for the year. In total, the Legislature introduced 2,872 bills and passed 293 of them. Those 293 passed bills will now head to Governor Neil Abercrombie’s desk for his signature.
Among the most important bills passed, was a campaign finance bill aimed at increasing transparency in the campaigning process. House Bill 1147 was passed Thursday night and is now headed to Governor Abercrombie’s desk. Under the bill, non-candidate committees only making independent expenditures will be required to list the names of the top three contributors on all advertisements broadcasted, televised, circulated, or published, which includes posting on the Internet. Originally, the bill required the top five contributors to be disclosed, but it was amended to only include the top three.
Still, Hawaii lawmakers were very pleased with the passage of this particular bill. Representative Chris Lee, the author of the bill, said, “All the political ads they see on TV that are sponsored by these loose organizations with no real background – these folks will have to disclose who the funders actually are so that people can actually go to the ballot box informed about what they’re about to vote on.”
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim added, “We should have transparency that people are free to go ahead and have their First Amendment, if it’s by way of donation and contributing, but we should be able to know who’s doing it.”
Governor Abercrombie has 45 days, excluding weekends and holidays, to sign the bill and if he does, the bill will become effective on November 5, 2014.
August 21, 2012 •
A bill for greater disclosure in California, politicians owing fines in Louisiana, and more in today’s campaign finance news:
California: “Bill would let voters impose greater disclosure requirements on political campaign spending” by The Associated Press in The Republic.
Hawaii: “Cashing In: Hawaii’s Top Ten Campaign Donors” by Lindsey Txakeeyang in the Honolulu Civil Beat.
Louisiana: “Lee Zurik Investigation: Politicians owe the state thousands in fines” by Lee Zurik on WVUE Fox 8 News.
Nebraska: “Campaign finance donation removed from state tax return” in the Lincoln Journal Star.
“Romney’s campaign coffers have $60 million more than Obama’s” by T.W. Farnam in the Washington Post.
“Ask Kim Barker Anything About Campaign Finance (a Reddit Chat)” by Amanda Zamora in ProPublica.
July 10, 2012 •
Revolving door provisions relaxed
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed House Bill 2175 into law, exempting certain people from the state’s revolving door provisions.
In an effort to increase participation amongst the state’s experts and those with special knowledge, the law exempts members of a state task force from the revolving door provisions. A task force is a group which is created to study a specific problem for a specified period of time.
The law will take effect immediately.
Photo of Governor Abercrombie courtesy of Wikipedia.
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