Report an Ethics Violation
To lodge a confidential complaint, please use one of the following:
- Complete this form: https://ethics.hawaii.gov/hsec_complaint/
- Call us at (808) 587-0460
- E-mail us at [email protected], or
- Send us a letter (1001 Bishop St. #970, Honolulu, HI 96813).
If you would like to learn more about our process, please keep reading below. Otherwise, please fill out our complaint form, call us, or e-mail us, and we will review your complaint right away. Please note that the Commission has jurisdiction only over state employees (and lobbyists who lobby the state legislature/state agencies); the Commission does not have authority to take action against private companies or county employees. If you have a complaint about a county employee, please contact the relevant county ethics agency.
The Commission enforces the State Ethics Code (Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 84) and the State Lobbyists Law (Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 97). The Commission receives and reviews complaints, and conducts confidential investigations concerning potential violations of the law. If appropriate, the Commission may initiate formal charges against individuals and proceed to a contested case hearing in accordance with Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 91. If a violation is found, the Commission has the authority to levy fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and other penalties may also be imposed.
Complaints that have first-hand information about the wrongdoing – that is, complaints where you have personally witnessed the wrongdoing – are more helpful than reports of potential misconduct that you’ve read about in the newspaper.
There are two ways to alert the State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) about a possible violation of the State Ethics Code or Lobbyists Law:
- Contact us with a complaint. You can complete this form: https://ethics.hawaii.gov/hsec_complaint/, call us at (808) 587-0460, e-mail us at [email protected], or send us a letter (1001 Bishop St. #970, Honolulu, HI 96813) alleging a violation of the State Ethics Code or the Lobbyists law – all we need is a brief description of the alleged violation and the name and state position (or organization) of the alleged violator, if known. All complaints are confidential. Most complaints lodged with the Commission are done through this “informal” method, though you can also file a formal Charge directly with the Commission.
- File a Charge directly with the Commission. You can file a formal Charge directly with the Commission at any time (within the six-year statute of limitations for State Ethics Code violations and the three-year statute of limitations for Lobbyists Law violations). The process for filing a Charge is set forth in Hawaii Administrative Rules (“HAR”) section 21-5-1, available at https://ethics.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/TITLE21.pdf. Charges must be signed under oath and may not be anonymous. As described above in #1, the Commission can also issue a Charge itself, usually after someone makes an informal complaint to the Commission and the Commission staff has investigated the matter.
- When the Commission staff receive an informal complaint (that is, any complaint except a formal Charge), here is what happens:
- Investigation: The Commission staff will review the complaint to determine if the Commission has jurisdiction; staff may refer the matter to another agency if appropriate. The Commission staff will investigate cases as appropriate and may ask the Commission to issue a Resolution to authorize a formal investigation (“Resolution to Investigate”). After issuing a Resolution to Investigate, the Commission may subpoena witnesses and documents.
- Confidentiality: The Commission’s investigations are confidential by law. The Commission does not inform the public regarding the status of any ongoing investigation. Even if you are the one who lodged the complaint, the Commission may be unable to give you any information about the status of the complaint.
- If there is evidence of a potential violation of the State Ethics Code or Lobbyists Law, the Commission staff may ask the Commission to issue a Charge – that is, a formal allegation of a violation of the State Ethics Code or the Lobbyists Law. The process after the Commission issues a Charge is discussed below (“After a Charge is filed”).
- If the complaint does not warrant further action, the staff may close the matter; the Commission or its staff may also choose to issue a guidance letter to a state employee or a state agency instead of taking further enforcement action. By statute, proceedings at this stage are still confidential, such that the Commission may not notify the public that a complaint has been closed. As discussed below, however, any individual may file a formal Charge directly with the Commission.
- The Commission may settle cases at any stage – either before or after issuing a Resolution to Investigate or a Charge. Most cases in which there appears to be a violation are settled without a formal contested case hearing. Some examples of cases resolved pursuant to settlement agreements can be found in our data set of Resolution of Charges/Investigations.
- After a Charge is filed: Once a formal Charge is received or issued, the Respondent is given the opportunity to file an Answer to the Charge, and the Commission staff will investigate the matter further. If, based upon the Charge, the Answer, and the investigation, the Commission believes there is probable cause of a violation, the Commission may issue a Further Statement of Alleged Violation (“Further Statement”). After service of the Further Statement, the Respondent will have 20 days to file an Answer to the Further Statement, after which the Commission may issue a notice of a formal contested case hearing. At that point, the Charge, Answer to the Charge, Further Statement, and Answer to the Further Statement will become public documents, and the contested case hearing itself is public. Prior to the issuance of the notice of hearing, the Commission treats all materials (and all investigations) as confidential. The Commission may enter into a settlement agreement with a Respondent at any stage.