March 3, 2021 •
Ask The Experts: Gifts of Aloha
Q: The Hawaii State Ethics Commission just released updates to their administrative rules. As a registered lobbyist in the state, how do these changes affect me?
A: First, the Ethics Commission’s changes clarify gift rules for registered lobbyists and their clients. “Gifts of aloha,” items with a value of less than $25, are no longer permitted. Lobbyists were previously allowed to give legislators and their staff items such as food, reusable water bottles, and other trinkets because of ambiguity in the governing statutes; however, the new rules make it clear that this practice is now prohibited. Furthermore, any gift given to a legislator’s office where a recipient is not specified will be deemed a gift to the legislator.
Other items, however, are still permitted. Lei, excluding money lei, as well as promotional pens, notebooks, hats, etc. are allowed. Travel to bona fide professional conferences, including modest food and beverage, are also still permitted. To determine if a gift is permissible, the Ethics Commission strongly encourages consultation with a member of the staff to avoid potential monetary penalties.
A few additional items of clarification simply spell out longstanding advice from the Commission. All expenditures should be reported on an accrual basis beginning January 1, 2021, and time drafting and providing testimony, as well as time spent waiting to testify, are included in determining if the registration threshold has been met. Finally, individuals engaging in “background work” at the direction of a registered lobbyist do not have to register so long as they do not communicate directly with public officials.
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