Advisory Opinion 98-05

     An elected official has requested an advisory opinion on the parameters of Hawaii Administrative Rules (“HAR”) section 2-14.1-16 (a)(5). The administrative rule identifying “personal gifts not more than an aggregate value of $200 in any year to a campaign employee or volunteer, or to an employee assigned to the office to which the candidate was elected” as among authorized campaign expenditures.

     Section 2-14.1-16, HAR identifies those expenditures that are “authorized” and therefore permitted under the campaign spending laws. Subsection (a) sets out the general rule to be applied. It requires that expenditures be “to pay for necessary expenses that are predominantly and directly related to a candidate’s campaign to influence the nomination or election of a candidate.” This general rule is followed by enumerated items (1) through (6) that identify the types of expenditures that fall within the general rule. If a candidate or committee makes such expenditures in the course of a campaign, they will be presumed to be authorized.

     Item (5) is the subject of this advisory opinion. It authorizes annual aggregate gifts of up to $200 to campaign workers and employees of elected officials. The purpose of this item is not, and cannot be, simply to provide candidates and committee’s with “blank checks” for the making of gifts from campaign coffers. All gifts paid for with contributed funds remain subject to the prohibition against the transfer of such funds for purposes other than those directly related to the campaign, section 11-200, Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”); against using such funds for personal expenses, section 11-206(b), HRS and section 2-14.1-15, HAR; against the rewarding of government employees for official action, section 84-11,HRS; and against vote buying, section 19-3, HRS as well as any other applicable restriction. This rule cannot, and is not intended to expand or supersede any provision of current law.

     This provision of the rule is intended to address a specific recurring circumstance and will be interpreted in strict conformance with this intent. That circumstance is that in which a campaign worker or employee makes unique and extraordinary uncompensated nonmonetary contributions to the nomination or election of a candidate. This could take the form of volunteer hours, length of commitment, quality or value of volunteer efforts, or lost opportunity or income. In such cases it is an appropriate use of campaign funds to acknowledge such contributions with a gift. Such gifts are certainly directly related to a candidate’s campaign and do not violate any other law of that we are aware.

     Examples of permissible gifts would include appreciation gifts to campaign officers and volunteers who have sacrificed many hours of uncompensated personal or professional time in a campaign. Similarly, staff of an elected official might voluntarily perform campaign-related functions in addition to their official duties. Gifts of appreciation, or occasion gifts, would fall under this rule.

     Impermissible gifts include any that would be barred as personal expenditures. Also if there were no direct relationship between the gift and campaign benefit, for example, if no significant campaign related duties were ever performed, the gifts would not be permitted under this rule.

     This Advisory Opinion is provided by the commission as a means of stating its current interpretation of the Hawaii Election Campaign contributions and Expenditures laws provided under HRS section 11-191, et seq. and the administrative rules of the Commission provided in chapter 2-14.1, Hawaii Administrative Rules. The Commission may adopt, revise or revoke this Advisory Opinion upon the enactment of amendments to the Hawaii Revised Statutes or the adoption of administrative rules by the Commission.

Dated: Honolulu, Hawaii, March 17, 1998.


A. Duane Black