The chair of the State Ethics Commission told legislative leaders this week that any further discussions concerning recent advice from the commission should take place only as part of a regular commission meeting.
In a January 18 letter, commission chair Maria Sullivan assured Senate President Shan Tsutsui that the commission agrees with the legal interpretations and proactive advice provided by commission executive director Les Kondo regarding restrictions on gifts and attendance at lobbyist-paid events, which have been drawing criticism from lawmakers.
Sullivan and commissioner Jacqueline Kido had been summoned to a meeting with Senate leaders on January 11 after Kondo advised lawmakers that accepting free tickets to an invitation-only event sponsored by two agriculture industry groups would violate the state’s ethics code. The tickets were valued at $50, while the commission has set a $25 limit for such gifts from lobbyists and others.
In her letter this week, Sullivan said any further discussions should take place in a public meeting rather than behind closed doors.
If you and the other Senators are interested in continuing our discussion, I would welcome that opportunity; however, because one of the Commission’s duties may require us to consider issues as a quasi-judicial body, I think that it is necessary and prudent for any further discussion to be as part of a public Commission meeting. As you know, much of government ethics is premised on public perception. For that reason, I am concerned that we may harm the public’s confidence in the Commission’s ability to perform its statutory responsibilities if there is any suggestion that the private meetings with you and the other Senators have compromised the Commission’s ability to be objective and impartial.
A copy of Sullivan’s letter was also sent to House Speaker Calvin Say.
Sullivan has been chair of the commission since 2008. Her term expires next year.