Return to Sender: Solar Firm Takes Back Wine Gift to Hawaii Lawmakers12/21/2011
Hawaii's ethics rules sure seem to be resonating with lawmakers.
Several turned away bottles of wine given as a holiday gift from a solar-energy company.
And now, lawmakers' allergic reaction to the gift has prompted the company to take back all of the bottles and issue an apology to the recipients.
Jon Yoshimura, the company's government affairs director, was clearly embarrassed by the incident.
"It was clearly a mistake on my part," he said when reached by phone in Washington D.C.
An accompanying holiday card obtained by Civil Beat reads: "Thank you for your partnership with SolarCity in 2011. In appreciation, we've enclosed two bottles of wine from King Estate Winery."
Yoshimura, a registered lobbyist for the company, said approximately 50 to 60 lawmakers received the gifts.
"I thought that it would be OK because my company's new to the state. I just wanted to deliver a gift of goodwill and appreciation. But after talking to Les (Kondo), I see the interpretation of the law, and I agree and that's why were trying to take remedial action as soon as possible," he said.
To that end, Yoshimura sent the gift recipients an email on Wednesday:
"I have been informed by Mr. Les Kondo, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, that the gift of wine given to you by SolarCity is inappropriate and must be returned," he wrote. "I am so sorry to have put you in this position and sincerely apologize for our mistake. I will have our employees retrieve the wine from you at the earliest possible convenience, before the start of the 2012 legislative session."
It's against Hawaii law for legislators to accept a gift if it's obvious that the gift is meant to influence or reward the lawmaker. The state's Ethics Code requires them to "disclose annually a gift or gifts that exceed $200 in value received from a single source."
In the case of the wine, Kondo said the Ethics Commission received calls from lawmakers asking about the gift's appropriateness. Kondo said he reached out to Yoshimura "as a courtesy" to discuss them in light of Hawaii's gift law.
Kondo said the gift is inappropriate for both its dollar value and because of the part of the gift law that says state employees cannot accept gifts if it can "reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence ... or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator's or employee's part."
Gifts of Aloha
"The commission has interpreted that to mean that tangible gifts above gifts of aloha — flower lei or a box of manapua — or a gift of nominal value, those are likely to be inconsistent with the gift law and ethics code," Kondo said.