Making sense of what was spent lobbying the legislature last year

In my Civil Beat column last week, I tried to do an overview of lobbying expenditures reported to the State Ethics Commission during 2016 (“Ian Lind: Tightening The Rules For Lobbyists/Lobbyists spent millions trying to influence lawmakers last year“).

I reported more than $5.3 million had been spent on legislative lobbying during the year, which seems like a substantial number. In the end, though, that total dropped to a bit under $5.3 million as a result of errors in the reports that were filed.

The column also reviews proposals from the ethics commission for clarifying reporting requirements in an attempt to close several loopholes that have been exploited by some to sidestep the disclosure requirements.

I would suggest that you at least skim the column, then return here for an explanation of what went into writing it and the problems I ran into.

First, I downloaded the latest version of the database of reported expenditures by organizations that retain lobbyists or are otherwise required to disclose their costs for influencing legislation, and then selected a subset containing all the reports for each of three reporting periods during 2016. These reports cover the periods January 1-February 28, March 1-April 30, and May 1-December 31. The legislature is in session during most of the first two periods.

When these are put online, the commission includes the amount reported for fees paid to lobbyists, and for the total of all categories of spending, in addition to the organization name, date filed, and other details. Also included is a link to the available pdf of the form.

During an initial pass examining the data, I noticed that several organizations submitted amended reports during the year. I went through each of those, and tried to make sense of the “amendments.” In some cases, the amendments appeared to simply be duplicates of the originals. In a few other cases, they reported new and presumably updated figures.

In one case–Outrigger Hotels–there were several amended disclosure forms filed, each containing the same numbers. On its face, it appeared Outrigger ranked #2 of all the organizations in spending, but several things stood out as warning flags that this might have been the result of errors. While I was working on my column, I tried reaching Max Sword, Outrigger’s in-house lobbyist. But Sword is also the current chair of the Honolulu Police Commission, which was meeting that same day, and I wasn’t able to reach him until the following day.

It turned out, according to Sword, that errors were made in the online process of filing these reports, resulting in errors. But although I suspected there were errors, at least in the case of Outrigger, I wasn’t able to confirm them prior to publication.

In any case, my next step was to add up the amounts reported in each of the three periods for each organization, and produced a list of the total amount spent by each group during 2016. Then I sorted these in descending order to give a quick list of the top spending lobbying groups.

I’m pretty sure that this is still a relatively good assessment of the overall situation. However, my “final” numbers changed when I made the correction for Outrigger, dropping it from #2 to #8 in the ranking.

Here’s a link to the full list of organizations and what they reported spending on lobbying at the legislature last year.

If you spot instances that deserve more attention, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

So what did Trump know and when did he know it?

The plot thickens.

New information reported by Foreign Policy (“Flynn Pressured U.N. on Israel Vote Before Taking Office“).

Nearly a month before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Michael Flynn, his national security advisor designate, and other members of the president’s transition team launched a vigorous diplomatic bid to head off a U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements.

The effort represented a fitful first foray into global diplomacy by Trump’s transition team, bearing hallmarks that have become familiar in the weeks since he took office. Their efforts were marked by a brusque disregard for diplomatic protocol and a hasty pressure campaign that changed few, if any, minds.

In the end, the president-elect’s team was unable to persuade a single country to change their vote, including Britain, Egypt, and Russia, three countries that have gone out of their way to cultivate better ties with the new American leader.

The episode also suggests that Flynn’s unconventional diplomatic activism in the weeks leading up to the inauguration was part of a highly coordinated effort at the highest ranks of the Trump team, including the president-elect, to shape the course of U.S. foreign relations.

That contrasts with the general portrayal so far of Flynn as a rogue envoy, whose secret talks in late December with Russia about sanctions were supposedly done without the knowledge of his superiors. Fox News reported Friday that Trump had been briefed on the full contents of Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador. [Emphasis added]

It’s well worth reading the full story at ForeignPolicy.com.

A selfie with Mr. Tucker

We spent Saturday evening with the group of friends who walk with us (and their dogs) in the early mornings. Lots of good food, good wine, and good stories were shared.

At one point, Tucker decided that my face definitely needed to be licked. He jumped up on the couch where I was sitting, scrambled into my lap, and proceeded with repeated attempts to scrub my face with his happy tongue. I have a series of awkward selfies which recorded his attempts, which finally ended in this calm moment and a self-portrait.

An evening with friends

A few Saturday morning photos

Here are just a few photos from this morning’s walk on the beach, split between the wonderful views and several of Kahala dogs, including both regulars and new found friends.

Meda’s dragging around with a cold that she likely brought back from Las Vegas, and I’m trying my best to stay out of its way. I’ve succeeded so far, but this is usually a losing effort.

Anyway, click below and enjoy today’s photos.

Saturday morning walk