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.


Twisted Logic

Courtesy the Hawaii House BlogLiberal House Democrats continue to fall flat on their promise to deliver accessibility and accountability to state government with HB1476, now slated for hearing on Thursday, February 10th. Via their own twisted logic, they would like the public to believe that they can offer more transparency to government by decreasing transparency.

Yes, that is as ridiculous as it sounds. I can’t make this stuff up. Here is the bill’s description per capitol.hawaii.gov (emphasis added):

Requires the Campaign Spending Commission to process all campaign donations so as to shield the identity of donors from candidates. Creates a publicly funded voter voucher pilot program in the Office of Elections.

Upon reading the bill, it is based on the flawed premise that a candidate will not be beholden to donors if they do not know who contributed to them. If the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission were to somehow “anonymize” the donor, it does not stop a candidate from learning or even hearing about the identity of a donor or the magnitude of their donation.

In the realm of the State Capitol, many donations come with a wink and a nod. Lobbyists rely on candidates knowing how strongly they support them and can easily find back channels to convey their benevolent gift. For example, Bob Toyofuku (lobbyist for the Hawaii Association for Justice and ambulance-chasing lawyers) simply needs to shake hands with Sylvia Luke after a House Finance hearing and say “enjoy the $2000”. No amount of anonymizing by the Campaign Spending Commission, no amount of lawmaking by the Legislature can change this.

To be fair, many political contributions are made out of gratitude. This is the sort of thing that must be judged in context, and on a case-by-case basis.

With such a highly flawed piece of legislation, it begs wonder whether the actual intent is not the increased government transparency promised by Scott Saiki (co-sponsor of HB1476).

Perhaps the actual intent is to shroud the entire process of political contributions in secrecy.  Perhaps there is something to hide.  Upon closer examination, the very individuals who would benefit from this poor legislation are the bill’s introducers.

Five of the bill’s introducers (Richard Creagan, Kaniela Ing, Bert Kobayashi, Nicole Lowen and Takashi Ohno) yields some interesting conclusions. [1] Below are the total contributions they accepted for campaigns in the previous two-year election cycle:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

What are the odds that ambulance-chasing lawyers [2] would find interest in a representatives from Nu’uanu (Ohno) and from Kailua-Kona (Creagan and Ohno)?

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

While a simple $50 or $100 donation might be a nice gesture, these representatives have accepted many large donations from ambulance-chasing attorneys. [3] $4000 or $5000 is a lot of money to say that you are not beholden to a particular group, but this is just a small fraction of their total contributions. Let us delve further:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Candidate Gifts $9,500 $4,000 $5,000 $8,600 $4,726
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

These same representatives accepted substantial sums from other representatives. [4] This includes Sylvia Luke, Scott Saiki, Scott Nishimoto and former state representative K. Mark Takai.

In fairness, there are a couple of ways that this can be interpreted. First, these representatives are such poor fundraisers that they need to be buoyed up by much more powerful representatives who are also much more prolific representatives. Alternatively, these representatives are paid for their support and obedience (fealty) in campaign contributions. The latter would suggest that if any one of these representatives were to step out of line and vote against their benefactors, they would receive less money toward their reelection.

Based purely on these numbers, it is quite clear that these representatives appear beholden to (a) liberal Democrats and (b) to ambulance-chasing attorneys. While I am open to alternative interpretations, the voting records of all five representatives are clear that they march lock-step to these supporting causes. There are no exceptions in their voting records to show that these representatives are an independent voice for their constituents and community. They do not vote for their communities, they vote for special interests.

Their districts do not have a voice in state government because it has been bought.

However, the numbers so far do not quite tell the story for Takashi Ohno. [5] For Ohno specifically, one other trend was quite clear:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Candidate Gifts $9,500 $4,000 $5,000 $8,600 $4,726
Out-of-state Gifts $19,609
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

In addition to plaintiff’s attorneys and liberal Democrats, Ohno owes much of his success in the last election to the support of out-of-state interests. Unless he plans on claiming former mayor Michael Bloomberg and his wife (both of whom maximized their contributions to Ohno at $2000 apiece) as family, he has a hard case to make as an independent voice for his community.

The take home message is quite clear: these representatives, based on their publicly available campaigns spending reports, are clearly in the pockets of special interests. When you owe your job to wealthy special interests like liberal Democrats and ambulance-chasing attorneys who can write $500 checks on a whim, it is hard to go against the grain.

More importantly, this analysis would not be possible if HB1476 were to pass. If the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission were forced to “anonymize” contributions, it would be possible for this blog, and for other concerned citizens to follow the money trail.

[1] As introducers of this bill, these sophomore (second-term) representatives stand out against other individuals because they are also part of the caucus of liberal Democrats. This distinction excludes Beth Fukumoto-Chang from this analysis.

[2] Contributions listed may differ slightly from other calculations as the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission only reports donations in excess of $100. It is likely that these numbers are higher than this blog is reporting.

[3] For purposes of this post, any gift that could be directly or indirectly attributed to plaintiff’s attorneys, lobbyists for plaintiff’s attorneys, or other organizations that support them (Hawaii Association for Justice) were included in the totals.  Contributors to campaigns will frequently use the names of surrogates (like spouses) to avoid the image of publicly supporting a candidate.

[4] For purposes of this post, gifts that could be attributed to any organization or individual associated with a sitting representative were included. This includes the Hawaii House Democratic PAC which is a slush fund for liberal Democrats to transfer funds to candidates while covering any traces of the originator of the money. Contributions from obvious family members were excluded.

[5] Tallies for other representatives were not made. Gifts to Ohno included to contrast against other contributors noted in this analysis.