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 (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.


Mailbag (01) – The Johanson-Theilen Effect

Many of you have sent messages asking why there are so many questions left in my posts, and those are very deliberate.  It is not my intent to leave people in the dark.  Suffice it to say:

  1. Information I post here is verifiable.  I post a lot of links so that my reporting can be verified independently.  Links to verifiable sources are included in every post.  I avoid hearsay at whatever costs, and I attempt to be as clear as possible when it IS included.
  2. It is in my best interests to stick to the facts where possible.  There is a complex morass of free speech, journalistic integrity and campaign speech that I need to navigate.  For the moment, I will relegate that morass to a mere footnote (1).

However, many of you have asked the same question, in response to my post Stacking the Deck.  One reader wrote, “Why did Aaron Johanson speak up in opposition to replacing Theilen on the Judiciary committee for SB1? I would have thought he would have wanted that to happen.”  Another reader submitted, “WHY did House Minority Leader Aaron Johnanson speak in opposition of Theilen’s replacement?”

The Legislature is still a place where many of the most important discussions take place in the dark, locked, smoke-filled rooms that are not privy to the eyes of the public – so the written record is rather scant on the precise reasons why Rep. Johanson opposed the removal of Theilen from the House Judiciary Committee during the 2013 special session.  You can review Aaron Johanson’s official remarks in the House Journal (see pages two and three).  To address the question, the House Minority Leader stated:

Removing the good representative from Kailua from the Judiciary Committee is not the only way to kill the bill.  …  I oppose removing the good representative from Kailua [Cynthia Theilen] from the House Judiciary Committee against her will, because it denies her a say on a committee that she has served on honorably for years, simply because she disagrees with me and other members of the Minority Caucus.

At first read, Rep. Johanson’s only reason for leaving Theilen on the committee was because she has been the Republican representative on the committee for a long time.  This assertion, however, is puzzling when Theilen’s committee voting record is scrutinized.  While she has served as a representative on the committee, Theilen record questions whether she has actually served as a Republican, or as a rubber stamp for liberal Democrats.  Questionable votes include the following:

  • Support of same-sex marriage (SB1, 2013 Special Session)
  • Support of civil unions (SB232, 2011)
  • Support for recreational use of marijuana (HB699, 2013) (2)
  • Contempt for First Amendment rights (freedom of speech) (HB1499, 2014)
  • Contempt for freedom of religion, and rights to protest and peaceably assemble (link pending) (3)
  • Forcing people of faith to administer emergency contraceptives (HB411, 2013)

Based on Theilen’s record, it is not clear why Aaron Johanson would NOT have replaced Theilen on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, considering that she consistently failed to represent the values of her own Republican caucus.  Furthermore, it is equally puzzling why Aaron Johanson would not have embraced an “all-options” approach to defeat SB1 during the 2013 special session.  When the votes of the full House of Representatives were in support of same-sex marriage, why wouldn’t you try to kill it in the House Judiciary Committee if you could?

For that answer, you will have to speak with Aaron Johanson yourself.  It would be irresponsible for me to speak on behalf of him. (4)  After that option, we are only left with speculation –

When the Republicans formed a coalition with liberal Democrats in November 2012, they received several gifts in exchange.  This included vice-chairmanships of the powerful committees on (a) Finance, (b) Energy and Environmental Protection, and (c) Economic Development and Business.  Republican’s Aaron Johanson (Finance) and Cynthia Theilen have benefitted directly from this coalition with liberal Democrats and personally occupy two of these three vice-chairmanships.  One could believe that their capitulation on the issue of same-sex marriage was made in exchange for “blood money” they received from their coalition with Souki, Saiki and Luke.  Perhaps Republicans were forced to capitulate to passage of same-sex marriage to preserve their powerful positions on these three committees.

Observers note that minority leadership in the House of Representatives hinges on a single vote.  While Representatives Fale, McDermott and Ward do not support him, Representatives Fukumoto, Matsumoto and Theilen tip the balance in favor of Johanson.  Without Theilen’s support of Johanson, he would no longer have the votes to be the minority leader.

So to those who asked why Johanson did not support the Theilen removal, I am left to conclude: quid pro quo.

(1) Due to the nature of this blog, the veracity is wholly dependent on its ability to be independently verified.  To achieve this balance as a blogger, freedom of press is necessary to protect sources where it is appropriate, and a balance of freedom of speech/press are necessary to report in a manner that is consistent with a broad array of electioneering laws.

(2) During House Judiciary hearings on HB699, Cynthia Theilen (and testifying family members) voiced their full support for the recreational use of marijuana.

(3) During the 2013 special session, Theilen supported an injunction that would have prevented church pastors from peaceably assembling at the State Capitol to protest against SB1 that eventually legalized same-sex marriage.  A link for this information is pending.

(4) The official remarks left by Johanson in the official legislative record are quite cryptic and circular.  In it, he opposed same-sex marriage, but permitted a Republican “yes” vote to sit on the committee while liberal Democrats actively changed the House Judiciary Committee’s composition to “grease the wheels of democracy” so that the liberal agenda would continue unopposed.  While one is invited to accept Aaron Johanson’s justification, it is not clear whether personal justification will be any more enlightening.

Stacking the Deck

Since October 2013, liberal Democrats have been quietly changing the make-up of the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) to eliminate opposition on the powerful committee.  The previous balance between socially-liberal and conservative members ensured that same-sex marriage (HB1109) was never even granted a hearing during the 2013 legislative session.  Passage of same-sex marriage only became possible after stacking the deck at the beginning of the 2013 special session before hearing SB1.

Here is how it happened:

1) Rep. Rida Cabanilla, (an opponent of same-sex marriage) the conservative representative from Ewa Beach was replaced on the House Judiciary Committee by then Rep. Denny Coffman, a known supporter of same-sex marriage.  When the House of Representatives gavelled in for the 2013 special session, this roster change was one of the first orders of business.  Richard Borreca (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Nov 1, 2013) wrote:

“Cabanilla lost her position on Judiciary, and House leaders didn’t want [Rep. Karen] Awana on Judiciary because she is expected to vote against the same-sex bill, so they put in Rep. Denny Coffman, expected to be a safe “yes” vote.”

2) Rep. Cynthia Theilen survived another roster change after House Republicans attempted to change their representation on the committee to better reflect Republican opposition to same-sex marriage.  House Minority Leader Aaron spoke in opposition of Theilen’s replacement.  In the same article, Richard Borreca continue:

So (Rep. Bob) McDermott, the most vocal gay marriage opponent in the House, knew he might leverage the committee vote if he could get Thielen off Judiciary, even if it meant dynamiting the coalition [between liberal Democrats and Republicans] to do so.  The tactic didn’t work, because Souki, along with House leaders Reps. Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke, had a strategy already mapped out.

Not content with the liberal majority on the committee, liberal Democrats continued to meddle with the committee’s membership to secure and advance the liberal/progressive agenda.

3) After the 2013 special session, Rep. Denny Coffman retired from the House of Representatives and was replaced by Rep. Richard Creagan – the latter who was selected from a list of names by Governor Abercrombie himself.  In the game of political patronage, it is safe to assume that this replacement will preserve the liberal majority on the House Judiciary Committee.

4) Having enough votes on the Judiciary committee to pass same sex marriage was not enough for liberal House Democrats and another substitution (via HR2) was made on the committee with the removal of Rep. Mele Carroll (a ‘no’ vote on same-sex marriage, see page 12) and her replacement by Rep. Mark Nakashima (a ‘yes’ vote to SB1).

SB1 (legalizing same-sex marriage in the State of Hawaii) passed the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) with a vote of 8-5.  Had Cabanilla been appropriately replaced by outgoing Majority Floor Leader Karen Awana, and had liberal Democrats not intervened in Republican politics, the vote would have been 6-7, killing SB1.

A quick head count gives liberal Democrats (with the support of a Republican) a five vote advantage over the four remaining committee conservatives.  With opposition on the committee silenced, it will be much easier for the Republican-backed liberal Democrats to advance their agenda that includes the legalization of marijuana, the erosion of religious freedoms and legalized gambling.

In fairness, the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee did some window dressing of its own.  The original committee line-up would have passed SB1 during the 2013 Special Session by a 3-2 vote.  To avoid potential embarrassment, the committee added two members to give the image of strong support for same-sex marriage and other items on the liberal/progressive agenda.  Derrick DePledge of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported in the Political Radar blog:

The two new members who have been appointed to Judiciary improve the vote count for same-sex marriage.  Hee, Shimabukuro and Ihara have said they favor same-sex marriage, while Gabbard and Slom are opposed.  By adding Galuteria and Solomon, who both favor same-sex marriage, the count jumps from 3 to 2 to 5 to 2.