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Ethics panel: Caldwell committee didn’t break laws, but raised concerns

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The city Ethics Commission has ruled that a transitional team that raised funds to help usher in Mayor Kirk Caldwell to Honolulu Hale and Caldwell’s office should have filed gift reports but otherwise committed no other violations.

An advisory opinion issued by the commission released today, however, raised serious questions about $110,000 used to help pay for a inauguration luau held in Caldwell’s honor.

It recommended that the city should enact safeguards to "reduce the risk of gift law violations for city officials when contributions are made to pay for transition, official inaugural or unofficial inaugural expenses."

Caldwell, in a release issued by the transitional committee, said: "I am gratified that the Commission found that I did nothing wrong while transitioning into the office of the mayor. Frankly, I was surprised that there was even an investigation to begin with, as the Mayoral Transition Committee followed the traditional practices used by our mayors and governors for as long as any of us can remember."

The report, however, said the case "underscores serious concerns about the integrity of city government when large donations are made for a mayor’s benefit from those who have much to gain or lose from their business relationships with the city administration." 

The Mayoral Transition Committee, formed by Caldwell’s supporters in December 2012 shortly after his election, collected $381,000 in private contributions, much of it from the same donors who contributed to Caldwell’s election campaign.

Money raised was used to pay for a inaugural luau, costs associated with actual "transitional" functions such as interviewing candidates for city department heads and the formal inaugural ceremony itself.

The Ethics Commission said the money used for transitional functions, which amounted to about $62,000, were used "to support legitimate government functions" and therefore should have been reported as gifts under the city’s gift policy. The committee and the mayor’s office failed to do so, the report said.

The commission said $145,000 attributed to the inaugural luau was not a government function. The money was used to subsidize the cost of attending, the report said, and while some paid $25 to go to the event at Moanalua Gardens, others went for free.

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