Forty years after passage of the state’s first law regulating lobbyists, requiring them to publicly register, identify their clients, and disclose what they spend to influence the legislative process, the agency charged with administering and enforcing the law is suffering a major crisis of confidence.
In what turned out to be a rather extraordinary meeting of the State Ethics Commission on Feb. 18, Executive Director Les Kondo briefed commissioners on his plan to revisit and potentially reverse a 2007 commission policy requiring so-called “goodwill lobbying” to be disclosed.
Kondo was responding to a request by the commission to review any staff plans to proactively investigate matters not tied to specific complaints or required activities. It was an unusual request, and it opened the door for an unusually candid presentation of preliminary legal concerns that would otherwise not have been presented publicly until more thorough research and vetting of a legal opinion had been done.
Kondo told the commission that he planned to review the policy toward goodwill lobbying because he now believes the specific language of the law is not broad enough to demand disclosure of social gatherings, whether one-on-one dinners between legislators and lobbyists, or receptions bringing dozens of legislators together to drink and dine with special interest groups, where specific legislation is not discussed.
“Professional lobbyists take legislators to meals off-session all
Public school teachers will no longer be allowed to accept free trips and other benefits from private companies for arranging and participating in educational travel for groups of students and parents, according to a ruling by the State Ethics Commission.
Department of Education officials have already been told the free trips given teachers by private educational travel companies are “impermissible gifts” that violate the state ethics code, and that the practice should be stopped. The commission will now notify the superintendent in writing of its decision.
Les Kondo, commission executive director, is not insisting on cancelation of trips already scheduled and booked, including one set to begin within weeks, citing the complexity and potential cost of unraveling travel reservations.
The issue was discussed by the State Ethics Commission at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday. Kondo said the commission was alerted to the issue by questions from a Windward Oahu school. The school was not identified, and Kondo said other schools are believed to offer similar trips.
Ethics staff were unable to find out how many schools, teachers, or students the new ruling will impact because there do not appear to be data collected about past trips by the Department of Education.
One company identified by Kondo is EF Educational Travel. According to its website, the privately owned company is based in Lucerne, Switzerland, boasts over 45,000 employees, and has offices in 53 countries.
High-level state employees have agreed to pay thousands of dollars in fines to settle allegations by the Hawaii Ethics Commission that for years they accepted free rounds of golf from top private firms who had business before the state.
The lengthy investigation wrapped up this week with a formal resolution of charges against nine state employees plus a notice that cases against 21 other public workers were resolved after they paid administrative fines.
The commission named eight of the nine state employees who had formal charges filed against them. They include:
Marshall Ando, Department of Transportation, Harbors Division, Engineering Branch, Design Section Head: Administrative Penalty, $7,500
Gerobin Carnate, Department of Transportation, Highways Division, Materials Testing and Research Branch, Structural Materials Section Head: Administrative Penalty, $6,000
Brian Kashiwaeda, University of Hawaii, Community Colleges Facilities and Environmental Health Office, Director: Administrative Penalty, $3,200
Brian Minaai, University of Hawaii, Associate Vice President for Capital Improvements: Administrative Penalty, $3,000
Eric Nishimoto, Department of Accounting and General Services, Public Works Division, Project Management Branch Chief: Administrative Penalty, $5,600
Alvin Takeshita, Department of Transportation, Highways Division, Highways Division Administrator; Prior Engineering Program Manager, Traffic Branch Head: Administrative Penalty, $5,750
David Tamanaha, University of Hawaii-Maui College Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs: Administrative Penalty, $1,750
Jadine Urasaki, Department of Transportation, Deputy Director for Capital Improvement Projects; Prior Department of Education Facilities Development Branch, Public Works Manager: Administrative Penalty, $1,500
An engineer with the Department of Agriculture who used to work with the Department
Two state board members are getting involved in the ongoing legal battle over the release of financial disclosure statements.
Sandi Kato-Klutke, a member of the Agribusiness Development Corporation, and Chad McDonald, who serves on the Land Use Commission, have asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to keep their financial disclosure statements confidential pending an appeal.
The Hawaii Attorney General’s office, which is representing them in their official capacities, filed the motion for a writ of mandamus last week. It marks the latest development in a lawsuit Civil Beat, represented by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, filed in September seeking the release of the financial disclosure statements of the current members of the ADC, LUC and University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
The Legislature in April unanimously passed a bill that added 15 boards and commissions to the list of those whose members must publicly disclose their financial ties, including those three boards. The law took effect July 8 without Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signature.
The Ethics Commission had advocated for this type of legislation for years, believing the public’s help is necessary to identify potential conflicts of interest among powerful state board members. The commission has found itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place though over the interpretation of the law.
The five-member volunteer
The debate over whether the Hawaii State Ethics Commission must release the financial disclosure statements of certain state board members is heading to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
First Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura last month ruled in favor of Honolulu Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction that would force the commission to release the records immediately.
On Friday, she denied the state Attorney General’s request for a stay pending appeal. The state is expected to instead ask the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus as Civil Beat had proposed.
The news outlet’s attorney, Brian Black, executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, said it will likely be late January before the request for the writ is made. He was pleased with the judge’s ruling, saying it should provide for a more expeditious remedy.
It’s unknown what the Supreme Court will do though. The justices could decide that Nishimura’s Nov. 12 ruling should stand and the records should be released immediately, or they could direct the parties to go through a more formal appeals process that would likely take significantly longer.
Recognizing that once the records are released “the bell cannot be un-rung,” Nishimura told Black and Deputy Attorney General Robyn Chun that asking for a writ of mandamus is not just
Gov. David Ige’s burgeoning administration is following in the footsteps of Gov. Neil Abercrombie when it comes to resisting the release of certain state board members’ financial disclosure statements.
State lawmakers unanimously passed a bill in April adding 15 boards to the list of those whose members must annually disclose their financial interests. Ige, a member of the Senate at the time, also voiced support for it in his campaign for governor.
Delaying the release of some of the records through a legal challenge would limit the public’s ability to identify potential conflicts of interest — something the Hawaii State Ethics Commission has said it could use help with.
David Louie, attorney general under Abercrombie, signaled his intent last month to appeal a court ruling that granted Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction to force the Ethics Commission to release financial disclosure statements for current members of the Land Use Commission, University of Hawaii Board of Regents and Agribusiness Development Corporation Board of Directors.
The Ethics Commission has decided to follow the AG’s advice instead of its own executive director, Les Kondo, and not release the financial disclosures for members of the affected boards if they had filed their form prior to the law taking effect July 8.
The disclosure forms identify in broad monetary ranges how much
It could be months if not longer before the Hawaii State Ethics Commission releases the financial disclosure statements of certain state board members that a judge ruled last week must be made public in accordance with a new law.
That’s because Hawaii Attorney General David Louie plans to appeal the court’s decision, which is expected to keep the records private while that lengthy process plays out.
The five-member commission voted 4-0 on Wednesday to not object to the AG’s move to appeal. Commissioner Melinda Wood abstained. The vote came after an almost hour-long discussion behind closed doors with Louie and two deputy attorneys general.
“The Attorney General believes that Act 230 and the complaint presents an important legal issue and should have appellate review,” Ethics Commissioner Susan DeGusman said before making her motion.
“The commission has no objection to the Attorney General filing an appeal to the preliminary injunction and/or taking necessary steps to seek further proceedings to obtain full and final appellate review on the merits,” she said.
“The Attorney General believes that Act 230 and the complaint presents an important legal issue and should have appellate review.” — Ethics Commissioner Susan DeGusman
Civil Beat filed a lawsuit in September challenging the commission’s decision to not release the financial disclosure statements of the members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, Land Use
Updated 6:50 p.m., 11/12/2014
First Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura has granted Honolulu Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction to require the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to make public the financial disclosure statements of certain state board members.
Nishimura ruled from the bench on Wednesday morning in a case brought by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest on behalf of the news outlet.
“The Legislature found that the public has an overriding interest in the release of financial disclosure statements by members of the state’s 15 most powerful boards and commissions,” said Brian Black, executive director of the Law Center.
“Judge Nishimura deferred to the Legislature and ordered the State Ethics Commission to disclose records requested by Civil Beat,” he said. “The Ethics Commission now must decide whether it will continue to defy the Legislature by appealing Judge Nishimura’s decision.”
Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo said he expects the commission to consider the ruling and how to proceed at its meeting next Wednesday. He said he hopes the Attorney General’s office will participate in that discussion.
Update The state Attorney General’s office, which represents the commission, is reviewing the court’s decision and considering its options, including whether to appeal, said Anne Lopez, the AG’s special assistant.
Attorney General David Louie said in a statement that he continues
Twenty-one state employees have agreed to pay a combined $16,500 in fines for accepting free rounds of golf from private contractors, consultants and vendors, according to a settlement with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
The resolution issued Monday by the commission does not name any of the state employees, instead only identifying them by department and position. The settlement does, however, list the 15 firms that the commission believes provided the free rounds of golf, tournament entry fees, drinks and food.
The biggest offenders were four Department of Transportation engineers, two University of Hawaii managers and one UH architect who were each fined $1,500 for accepting free rounds of golf over the past few years.
Ten other employees, including the Department of Accounting and General Services administrator, were fined $500 each and four employees paid $250 apiece in penalties.
The investigation into the three agencies involved 49 employees. The commission has initiated formal charge proceedings against “a number of other employees” who were not part of this resolution.
The settlement notes that the commission has not made any findings or conclusions that any of these 21 employees, in fact, violated the State Ethics Code. But there was enough evidence, including employees admitting to accepting the free rounds of golf, that the commission believes it could have filed formal charges.
UPDATED 9/25/2014, 2:30 p.m.
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission on Wednesday reaffirmed its decision to withhold the financial disclosure statements of more than 100 current state board members who filed their annual reports before a new law took effect July 8.
The law added 15 powerful boards to the list of those that already must disclose their financial interests publicly. But there’s an ongoing debate over whether it should apply to members who filed their disclosure statements before it took effect.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo has interpreted the law to require the release of all the current members of the boards who fall under the new requirement, regardless of when they filed.
However, the five-member commission has chosen to follow the advice of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office and only release the reports of those members who filed after July 8.
Kondo said this policy has resulted in the public disclosure of reports for only about 22 of the roughly 140 people who serve on the 15 boards that now have to file publicly. It’s also created a situation in which boards have some members who have disclosed their financial interests while others have not.
“The way that the law is being applied may not be consistent with the intent of the Legislature.”
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission will consider a request this week by Civil Beat and the League of Women Voters to release the financial disclosure statements of dozens of powerful state board members.
The news outlet and good-government group want the documents filed by members of the 15 boards that the Legislature unanimously required to publicly disclose their financial interests. Civil Beat has filed a public records request for the disclosure statements of current members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, Land Use Commission and Agribusiness Development Corporation. That request was denied.
The law took effect July 8 after Gov. Neil Abercrombie decided against vetoing the measure. But two weeks later, the Ethics Commission voted to keep confidential the disclosure statements of any member who filed before July 8.
The League of Women Voters and Civil Beat, represented by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, have asked the commission to reconsider its position and release the documents, which help identify potential conflicts of interest.
The commission plans to discuss the concerns presented by the law center and league at its meeting Wednesday.
“The whole situation that’s been created by the current position is just odd,” said Brian Black, the law center’s president and executive director.
“They’ve set up a situation where they seem to be referencing privacy concerns but they are producing financial
For the first time, the public is privy to the annual financial disclosure reports filed by members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.
Well, at least four of the 15 members who filed their required reports since a new law took effect July 8. The other regents’ records will remain sealed under a unanimous ruling last week by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
The new law adds 15 state boards to the list of those whose members have to publicly disclose their financial interests. They include the Board of Regents, the Agribusiness Development Corporation, Land Use Commission and Hawaii Community Development Authority.
Against the advice of its executive director, Les Kondo, the five-member Ethics Commission decided only reports involving those board members filed after the law took effect July 8 will be released. That means the public won’t see the financial statements of the vast majority of current members on the affected boards until their next reports are due, May 31, with the exception that new members have to file their reports within 30 days of being appointed.
Civil Beat filed a public records request July 14 under the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act asking for the financial disclosure statements of the current members of the Board of Regents, Land Use Commission and Agribusiness Development Corporation.
In accordance with the commission’s ruling, Kondo responded Tuesday, and denied the request except