The Hawaii Ethics Commission is taking a whack a free golf outings for state officials.
In a July 3 advisory letter, the commission said that dozens of state contracting officials and lawmakers have accepted complimentary entry and green fees to charity golf tournaments from companies that do business with the state.
It said several received significant door prizes and other gifts as a result of their participation in the charity golf events. Some of the gifts are valued at up to $1,000.
"It appears that there are many state employees and legislators who may have accepted and may continue to accept complimentary golf," the commission said.
Ethics experts say such perks undermine the public's confidence in government.
"There's obviously a pay-to-play environment that goes on here," said University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore.
"The most damaging thing is when people see this going on, they don't trust the process, they don't trust the state government and they don't trust that these contracts are being given out fairly."
Kelii Akina, CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, said the taxpayer ultimately pays the bill for the perks through increase costs for government contracts.
"The taxpayer simply is not given the best quality work from the best quality person, if a deal is being made and individuals are receiving favors," Akina said.
"We have a government in which people are awarded contracts not on the basis of merit but on the basis of favors and this creates a system of corruption."
Akina cited a recent study by the Washington, D.C. -based Center for Public Integrity that faulted the state for lacking transparency when it came to transparency.
"We rank 13th and that's given a rank of C because we have very low transparency," he said.
The Ethics Commission's investigation still in the early stages but the agency found that the problem appears to be so common that it issued a warning to tens of thousands of state workers.
"I think there is a perception that these state contracts are unfair," added U.H.'s Moore.
"You've seen some controversy on the contract awarded to the university system and this definitely does not help the public's perception."
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