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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Lingle travel disclosure: better late than never

Gov. Linda Lingle wasn't exactly forthcoming, but finally her administration has seen the light by disclosing exactly who gave what on her Asian trade missions.

The Advertiser first asked for full disclosure in June.

Trade missions are important to Hawai'i's people. But so is transparency. Constituents have a right to know who has gained special access to the governor and other dignitaries through the underwriting of trips, and what, if anything, those patrons got in return.

That became even more important recently when Director Ted Liu of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism sent a letter to a potential underwriter promising key sponsor benefits if the company contributed $50,000 to future missions. Liu said the benefits high-ticket donors received were not excessive.

Regardless, it certainly at a minimum had the appearance of a pay-to-play pitch. Indeed, the governor had an obligation to taxpayers to disclose the information.

Now that she's met that obligation, we know that DFS Hawaii, Ko Olina Resort and Marina, and NCL-America collectively gave $120,000 to her Asian trade missions.

We also know that more than $827,000 in cash and in-kind contributions have been raised by Lingle since 2003 to pay for her trade missions.

Executives of the three top contributing companies deny there was special access to Lingle or foreign officials. All three companies have extensive dealings with the state, though nothing directly connected to the trade missions.

Still, disclosure did exactly what it was intended to do: clear the air and let taxpayers know who donated and how much they gave. Let's hope the ethics lesson sticks.