HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii politicians are allowed to accept donations and gifts, but there are strict rules that regulate what they can and cannot accept.
The corruption scandal involving former State Senator Kalani English and now-former State Representative Ty Cullen alleges that the two accepted bribes for crafting or eliminating bills.
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Taking any kind of compensation to influence policy or action is a huge no-no for legislators in the state of Hawaii.
The Hawaii State Ethics Code says in regards to gifts:
“No legislator or employee shall solicit, accept, or receive, directly or indirectly, any gift, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing, or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of the legislator’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator’s or employee’s part.”– Hawaii State Ethics Code
Certain gifts are ok. The Ethics Commission says “flower leis and inexpensive tokens of Aloha or appreciation would generally also be acceptable.”
Legislators and employees are required to disclose annually any gift over $200 from a single source. Lawmakers say they were stunned that two of their neighbors were hit with such serious charges, but not that opportunities were available.
“We are given strict guidelines on this and they audit every disclosure we have,” Rep. Gene Ward said. “The temptation, if you will, which when you’re in a position like this things come and if you don’t have a strong resistance, you’ll get sucked up in it,”
Campaign donations are allowed, but lawmakers are also under strict guidance in that realm.
“I think where it gets it gets muddled sometimes if your donors are actually controlling your votes,” House Minority Leader Val Okimoto said. “I don’t think people come into office, thinking that that’s what they’re going to do. But it’s a systemic problem. I guess nature of the beast of what we do here,”
With recent corruption scandals in different levels of government lately, lawmakers are emphasizing that they need to be serving the public instead of donors.
“We need to really understand that at the end of the day, we are not beholden to a special interest group or a lobby or a union really,” Rep. Okimoto said. “We should be representing the people who have entrusted us with their votes.”
The hope is that this will deter others from the allure of money that corruption can bring.
“This is a message and shot across the bow for anybody who’s in elected office, anyone who’s got the public trust. This is a way to say hey, guys, it’s enough,” Rep. Ward said.
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Requests for comment to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission were not returned Tuesday evening.