Dark Intentions

From fbi.govA bill (HB329) passed along by the House Judiciary Committee to add transparency in government was killed by House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke a little more than one month into the legislative session.  Analysis into the facts available suggest darker intentions that highlight the culture of pay-to-play politics where lobbyists and fellow elected officials reward junior members with large campaign donations.

While liberal Democrats would like you to believe that the Finance committee did not have enough time to hear the bill, the lights were dark in Room 309 at the State Capitol on Monday, March 2nd.  The Legislature observes a five day recess so that the money committees (House Finance and Senate Ways and Means) can process the numerous bills referred to their committee.  Senate Ways and Means, House Judiciary and House Consumer Protection committees were working hard, but House Finance was taking the day off.  Monday, however, was a lost opportunity to hear good bills like HB329.  Carmille Lim of Common Cause Hawaii commented to Hawaii News Now regarding HB329:

“We feel that this bill will help to alleviate some of the concerns of inappropriate behavior and bribery that could happen during legislative session and when legislators fundraise during session.”

To be clear, HB329 did not die, it was killed – a very important distinction. [1]

If good government was a priority for governing liberal Democrats, they would have made the time for this bill.  HB329 (even in its weakest form) would have banned campaign fundraisers while elected officials made their most critical decisions.  Fundraisers held during the legislative session give the public the impression that elected officials are being rewarded for their votes that are in line with special interests rather than the interests of their districts.

The million dollar question is “Why would Sylvia Luke, as top member of the ruling liberal Democrats, kill a bill that supported the government transparency – the same transparency that liberal Democrats promised in their vacuous House Majority Package?”  We know it is not because she ran out of time – Luke had ample time to ensure that her own bills received a hearing.   If you connect the dots, HB329 was problematic because while it is in the best interests of the public to have transparency in government, it is not in the best interests of Luke, Saiki, Souki or any one of the ruling liberal Democrats.

Five representatives (Ing, Ohno, Lowen, Creagan and Kobayashi) – who did not want you to know the sources of their campaign donations – have been confirmed by Capitol sources as hosting a campaign fundraising event on Wednesday, March 11th from 5-7PM at Ferguson’s Pub [2].  These swanky events are where elected officials host lobbyists and collect campaign donations.  Whether these donations are a genuine sign of support or a reward for “acceptable behavior” will vary on a case-by-case basis.  The intentions in this particular case, however, appear very dark.

As a sign of their contempt for public trust, their fundraising event is held the day after an important legislative deadline called “Third Reading” [3] – a crucial point in the calendar.  In comments to Hawaii News Now, Karl Rhoads noted:

“The amendments that we put in (HB329) were to try to really target the crucial points, the spots in the system where abuse is most likely…”

If representatives truly cared about the perception of trust and transparency, they could wait until a week after the deadline to collect money.  Even better, they could wait until the end of the legislative session.

But in addition to lobbyists and plaintiff’s attorneys (ambulance chasers) flush with money, there is one more special interest group that spends heavily at these events – other elected officials.  Joe Souki, Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke spend heavily on junior representatives, often giving them the maximum amount allowed within campaign spending limits.  The timing of the fundraiser after the voting deadline appears to ensure that these representatives vote in line with their superiors.  In this respect, Ing, Ohno, Lowen, Creagan and Kobayshi appear less like colleagues and more like minions.

This all comes full circle back to Sylvia Luke.  The transparency and good governance offered by HB329 hamstring her ability to enforce allegiance to her own interests, priorities and pet projects, rather than the interests of they people they represent.  Even Karl Rhoads, whom this blog is often at disagreement with, thought this was a good idea.

As people who are governed by these elected officials, it is our duty to be informed about the people that we elect.  Filings with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission are online for anyone to inspect.  It is your responsibility to know if your elected officials (both representative and senator) are being bought out by special interests.

What is even more important to know is whether the vote of your own elected official being bought and paid for by another elected official.

Blogger’s note: While HB329 would not have prevented this fundraiser specifically, it would have prevented future events like the Ing fundraiser should the bill have taken effect.  HB329 would have jeopardized the future leadership of the same liberal Democrats.

[1] Imagine the difference between a person dying of starvation and a person dying because food was withheld from them.

[2] As only 48-hours notice of a fundraiser is required, absolute confirmation is difficult to obtain a week in advance.  While the date, time and location of this event were confirmed by Capitol sources, dark intentions might prevail via a change of date or venue. Enemies of good government prefer that the only people who know about these events are the ones with checks.

[3] Every bill must be “read” three times in each of the two chambers in order to advance.  Most bills will receive their third reading on March 10th in marathon floor sessions where they will be debated.

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