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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 8, 2007

Palace must not serve as fundraiser machine

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Auctioning off the use of a lanai for a party of 20 was the first time the nonprofit Friends of 'Iolani Palace ever offered up part of the palace itself in a fundraiser event. It really ought to be the last time that happens.

It was fortunate that Campbell Estate heiress Abigail K. Kawananakoa preempted such a party from taking place. With her $100,000 offer 10 times opening bid price she saw to it that nobody could actually host the event.

Kawananakoa, a descendant of the Kalakaua family that ruled at the close of Hawai'i's monarchy era, has been generous in the past with financial aid for the palace, which now goes without sustained taxpayer support.

She also has notoriety for clashes with the palace stewards. The daughter of the Friends' founder, Kawananakoa resigned her post on the board in 1998, following a flap over her posing for a Life magazine photo by sitting on one of the thrones.

But setting aside that bit of history, even the Friends should admit that she raises a valid objection.

Kawananakoa found it "unseemly" that 'Iolani the only palace in the U.S. and the former home of Hawaiian royalty would be used for fundraising. She's right.

So far, Friends has done a good job overseeing the ongoing rentals of palace grounds and the Halekoa Barracks for parties and events, a mainstay of revenue needed for palace upkeep. Events are supervised to be sure that nothing is damaged and that events are appropriate.

But in treating the palace itself as another funding source to tap even on an exceptional basis Friends officials have gone too far.

In making the exception for the auction in an attempt to raise extra revenue, the Friends opened the floodgates for others wanting the same kind of access.

It may become hard to turn down overtures from well-monied interests in the future. If corporations want to rent a university stadium for a rock concert, they'll surely ask about the palace, and the financially strapped Friends will feel tempted to say yes.

The Friends promises in its rental contract not to "compromise the dignity and integrity of the Palace, its contents, and the grounds." It needs to uphold that pledge.

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