Category Archives: Ethics

Only a few early bird legislators have filed personal financial disclosures

The deadline for legislators to file their annual personal financial disclosures is February 1, just over a week away.

As of this morning, just six members of the 51 member state House, and three members of the 25-person Senate, have filed their disclosures.

Senator Russell Ruderman gets the “First to File” award for getting his disclosure filed at 10:46 p.m. on Sunday, January 3.

Here’s the list of those who had filed by the time of this posting. I haven’t looked through all the disclosures yet, but I give these legislators credit for not procrastinating.

2016

To check the current list of filers, click here. The links on that page will also take you directly to the online forms.

Remaining to be seen–how many legislators will miss the February 1 deadline altogether.

Would sex between a legislator and lobbyist trigger the gift provisions of the ethics law?

A Missouri legislator has been getting a lot of media attention for introducing a bill that would require a lobbyist who has sex with a legislator or staff member to include the act on the lobbyist’s required gift disclosure form.

According to a report in the Kansas City Star:

From the bill: “For purposes of subdivision (2) of this subsection, the term ‘gift’ shall include sexual relations between a registered lobbyist and a member of the general assembly or his or her staff. Relations between married persons or between persons who entered into a relationship prior to the registration of the lobbyist, the election of the member to the general assembly, or the employment of the staff person shall not be reportable under this subdivision. The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation.”

It’s really not an off-the-wall bit of legislation.

I suspect this could be, at least in part, a reaction to a February 2015 opinion by North Carolina’s State Ethics Commission, which ruled that consensual sexual relationships between a lobbyist and a legislator do not constitute a reportable gift under the state’s ethics law.

According to the commission opinion:

Section 120C-303(a)(1) of the Lobbying Law restricts a registered lobbyist from giving a gift to a designated individual unless a gift ban exception applies. “Gift” is defined as “[a]nything of monetary value given or received without valuable consideration….” G.S. 138A-3(15). A lobbyist must report certain “reportable expenditures,” defined to include gifts and “things of value” greater than $10 per day given to a designated individual or immediate family member.

Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or “reportable expenditures made for lobbying” for purposes of the Lobbying Law’s expenditure reporting provisions. See G.S. 120C-402 and G.S. 120C-403.2

The commission did note, however, that providing paid prostitution services could be considered a gift, “depending on the particular facts.”

The prompts me to wonder how the Hawaii State Ethics Commission would view the same issue. I’m aware of several situations here in the past where a lobbyist allegedly engaged in sex with a legislator, or paid for someone else to have sex with the lawmaker. But the issue has never reached the commission, as far as I know.

Hawaii’s gift statute seems to be a bit broader than the North Carolina law, and may get around the problem of placing a dollar value on consensual sex.

Section 84-11 HRS provides:

§84-11 Gifts. No legislator or employee shall solicit, accept, or receive, directly or indirectly, any gift, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing, or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the legislator or employee in the performance of the legislator’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the legislator’s or employee’s part.

That’s a definition that seems extremely broad, applying to a range of types of gifts, including services, entertainment, hospitality, “or in any other form,” in addition to simpler things like money, travel, etc.

Would the commission include sex? I think there’s a good chance they would, but of course that’s just a prediction, not a reality.

Should Hawaii clarify the gift law in the same way this Missouri legislator is proposing?

Another visit to Kaaawa (photo)

Kaaawa, HawaiiWe spent the night with friends in Kaaawa again, and started today with a walk on our former beach out in Kaaawa. We did manage to visit with a number of our former daily dogs, as well as some of their people. We was a pleasure, as always.

There is still something very special about Kaaawa, that’s for sure.

And we did walk past our former house. Renovations are still underway there, it seems. We’re looking forward to seeing what the new owners are doing.

But the upshot is that I won’t have much of a blog post for today, since I’m getting such a late start at the computer. But I did want to share this photo, taken just as the sun rose.

Another gorgeous day.

And if you have access to Civil Beat, do check out my column about the UH Cancer Center and its former director. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback already. See “Ian Lind: Has UH Adequately Addressed Cancer Center’s Sticky Issues? Former director Michele Carbone was often an expert defense witness in asbestos cases and sought UH grants from a frequently sued company. Conflict of interest?

I’ll have more on this issue over the next couple of days.

Is more trouble brewing at the Honolulu Ethics Commission?

The Honolulu Ethics Commission has set a previously unscheduled meeting for next Tuesday, November 3, at 5:30 p.m. The agenda was filed late Wednesday afternoon, and distributed via email on Thursday.

Exactly why this special meeting is being held isn’t at all clear. The commission’s regular October meeting was held just a week ago, on October 21, and the next regular monthly meeting on November 18 has been on the commission’s calendar for months.

It appears next week’s special meeting must have been triggered by recent unspecified events.

There are several unusual aspects to the announcement. First, the meeting is being held in the late afternoon, whereas regular commission meetings have started at 11:30 a.m.

Second, two meeting places are listed on the agenda. The first is the commission office, the second a home in Kula, Maui. That property is owned by attorney and commission member Michael Lilly, so it appears he will be participating electronically via speaker phone.

The time change and teleconferencing indicates to me that a special effort is being made to have all members present.

The meeting has a single agenda item, to be held in a closed executive session.

?II. EXECUTIVE SESSION.

The Commission anticipates convening an executive session, pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 92-5(a) (4), to consult with the Commission’s attorney on questions and issues pertaining to the Commission’s powers, duties, privileges, immunities and liabilities related to personnel and management matters. [emphasis added]

In context of recent events, this is disquieting.

The commission recently dismissed all charges in a case brought against three city council members for accepting illegal gifts from lobbyists. The reasons for the dismissals were not publicly disclosed.

These charges raised questions of whether a series of rail-related council votes would be considered valid if a majority of council members were later found to have improperly accepted gifts from lobbyists that weren’t publicly disclosed as potential conflicts. Although it seems unlikely that the rail project could have been stopped even if these votes were declared to be legally void, just the possibility posed political challenges for Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The three council members were ably represented by former congresswoman and attorney, Colleen Hanabusa, recently appointed to the board of directors of the agency that manages the rail project.

Earlier, Caldwell’s recent appointees to the commission led the charge to institute a restrictive media policy that would have made it very difficult for the commission’s professional staff to communicate with the news media and the public.

And the mayor’s administration has been and remains at odds with the commission, and has been seen as repeatedly obstructing the commission’s investigative efforts.

So what’s really the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting? It seems reasonable to assume it concerns the commission’s executive director and chief legal counsel, Chuck Totto, unless the commission is going to micromanage things farther down through the staff ranks.

And given the context of events of the past six months, it’s worrisome.

Why did the city ethics commission dismiss all ethics charges against three council members?

My Civil Beat column this week takes a deeper look at the decision by the Honolulu Ethics Commission to dismiss all charges against three current and former city council members accused of taking illegal gifts from lobbyists and failing to disclose the resulting conflict of interest when voting on bills involving matters those lobbyists and their clients were concerned about (“Ian Lind: Will Ruling In Council Case Derail Honolulu Ethics Enforcement?“).

The three council members–budget chair Ann Kobayashi, zoning and planning chair Ikaika Anderson, and former council member (now state senator) Donavan Dela Cruz didn’t deny being wined and dined by key lobbyists over a period of years, but through their attorney they disputed how much they actually ate and drank, and how the meals paid for by lobbyists should be valued when determining whether the ethics laws were violated.

The dismissal was a surprise, since the commission’s staff had worked on the case for over a year, developed over 1,000 pages of documentary evidence, and identified a long list of times each of the three had allegedly violated ethics laws.

Here’s a short summary of the result: They beat the rap on technicalities and a good attorney to exploit them.

The good attorney is Colleen Hanabusa, former Senate President, Congresswoman, and now on the board of directors of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (which is managing the train project).

An interesting match-up, since the ethics charges, if upheld, could have resulted in a series of rail-related council votes to be declared null and void. That would have created quite a mess.

I was able to get copies of Hanabusa’s motion for summary judgement filed on behalf of the council members, which made for interesting and occasionally startling reading.

If you have a chance, track down today’s column. It’s a good read.