Ethics officials tell lawmakers to tighten up spending

KHON2’s Always Investigating recently unveiled details about how lawmakers spend nearly $1 million a year on things like food, flowers and furniture. Staff at the Hawaii State Ethics Commission wants to see changes.

Lawmakers were given new recommendations Thursday from the watchdog agency that keeps tabs on state ethics, including how they spend the legislative allowance — about $12,000 a year per lawmaker.

Some have complained the allowance has become a personal slush fund.

Always Investigating analyzed years of line-item expenses lawmakers have paid for out of their legislative allowance, which is supposed to cover incidentals reasonably related to official duties.

Over two years, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on food. Then there’s lei, appliances, even iPads. Lawmakers also submitted airfare, cars and hotels despite also getting travel reimbursed with what’s called “per diems” for neighbor island officials.

House and Senate leadership has told Ethics to stay out of the matter, and that it’s a lawmaker’s own kuleana to monitor. But in a 21-page memo issued Thursday afternoon, state ethics officials say they disagree and recommend lawmakers tighten up the spending.

Sen. Sam Slom, the only lawmaker who never spends his allowance, had this to say: “The public has got to be involved. The public has got to be engaged. The public has got to hold our feet to the fire.

“Don’t give up. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t turn the page, because it’s your money,” he added.

Slom told KHON2 he plans to introduce legislation to prevent automatic increases of the allowances, which are tied to salary hikes.

His bill will also restrict spending to defined expenses, much like most other counties and federal offices have.

These recommendations have not been adopted by the commission board. Both lawmakers and the public have time to comment and testify on them at the commission’s June 18 meeting.

View the full set of recommendations here.

Find out just how much lawmakers are spending with KHON2’s interactive spending analysis.

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