Hawaii Superferry, Inc. spent more than 17 times the amount previously disclosed while lobbying for special legislation during 2007, according to amended disclosure forms filed today with the State Ethics Commission.
The company now reports having spent a total of $379,431.52 during calendar year 2007. It had previously filed reports claiming total expenditures of just $21,791.56.
According to the new reports, signed by former CEO John L. Garibaldi, now vice chairman, the company spent $272,251.53 during the two month period beginning March 1, 2007 through April 30, 2007.
This sum included $166,851.97 preparing and distributing lobbying materials, $11,404.45 for media advertising, $23,028.96 for postage, and $63,917.39 in fees, apparently for public relations.
In its original report for this same two-month period, filed in May 2007, the company claimed that it spent a total of just $6,788.54.
The new reports were submitted after I wrote to the Ethics Commission several weeks ago complaining about the obvious failure of the company to report significant expenses, including mailings of more than 110,000 letters and petitions that were later submitted to the Legislature, and related fees paid to public relations firm McNeil Wilson Communications.
The commission and its staff appear to have done a good job in getting compliance from Hawaii Superferry (and, separately, the organization National Popular Vote) once the matter was officially called to their attention, although my mention in a column published in May 2007 apparently didn’t pique the commission’s interest.
This massive under-reporting underscores the weakness of Hawaii’s lobbying law, which is supposed to provide the public a clear idea of what is being spent to influence public policies.
The state lobbyist law (Section 97-7 HRS) provides for administrative fines for any person who “Willfully files a statement or report containing false information or material omission of any fact.” However, it further provides that no fines can be assessed unless the Ethic Commission convenes a formal hearing and issues a final decision. Such formal hearings are rarely held, and the commission instead concentrates on obtaining voluntary compliance, even if after the fact. This means that there will likely be no consequences, apart from being mentioned here and on other blogs, even as a result of this glaring example of failing to report. They got their special legislation and six months later got caught for failing to make the legally required disclosure. The risk/reward ration is certainly quite favorable and no deterrent to future transgressions.