Tuesday, April 25, 2006


K Street West Part 1: Honolulu's unfolding lobbyist scandal

$765,652. Remember this number.

The incest between Congress, Abramoff and K Street lobbying firms has been splashed across front pages everywhere. That corporate money leads to corruption in government is no surprise. The influence of money is pervasive not only in Congress but of course in state and local government most anywhere. It seems to be the American Way. It's how we do business. Money is the license to play in politics everywhere and anywhere.

Abramoff played big and fell hard, taking down his buddy DeLay with him. Abramoff's fall caused panic in Washington as legislators rushed to dispose of their share of his tainted money. As though that would leave their hands clean.

Hawaii is no stranger to big money influence. Governor Lingle raised huge sums on the Mainland, and candidates for office are rated here, as elsewhere, on their ability to build a big "war chest." Developers and engineers don't seem to mind paying fines in order to support their favorite politician, and presumably there are rewards in store for them in exchange.

If you don't give money, don't expect to play, don't expect to win, is the clear message.

Recently, it was discovered (not that it was a secret) that big corporations, for example, HMSA and HECO, have one or more executives embedded in the state legislature. While still pulling down big corporate salaries, their presence is an in-kind though unreported contribution to the legislators they toil for.

Of course, this is in addition to whatever was forked over by these and numerous other companies and special interests as campaign contributions to buy votes. Is that too direct? I said "to buy votes." What else is the money for? If they wanted to give it to charity, they could have done so. Money directed to politicians is an investment. When a politician holds a fund raiser during the session, they are inviting these folks to invest. Investments are expected to payoff now or later. Corporations are not supporting politicians because they feel generous. You know that.

So what's that $765,652?

It's the first fruit of ongoing research into what makes our government go. This is the best estimate yet of the amount hauled in by 11 legislators (and yes, we know who you are) and two legislative PACs during the 2004-2005 sessions. (Political Action Committees, commonly called "PACs," are organizations dedicated to raising and spending money to either elect or defeat political candidates).

That's big money for our little ol' state. For sure, it must buy a lot of favors. And it is only part of the vast total. More details will be coming out soon.

We glean this information from disclosures that are required of the lobbyists and special interests. The data is there. It can be hard to decipher, though, because "drug money" doesn't come clearly labeled like pill bottles, nor does "tobacco money" come in a pouch labeled Phillip Morris. You'd have to know that a firm in New York City channels tobacco money to where it will have the best payoff for the cigarette manufacturers. That firm is registered in databases that are now accessible by anyone via the Internet.

You have to connect the dots to see how the money flows from these front organizations through Hawaii's key lobbyists to end up in the campaign coffers of your favorite legislator. Here's where the power of today's mighty desktop computers comes in handy. They are up to the task. The dots are being connected in the rows and columns of Excel spreadsheets.

I hate to disappoint the folks who feel strongly about representative democracy. They take time off for work to write and deliver testimony in person at the Legislature. When the committee chair ignores them and submits an amendment drawn up in advance but kept from the public, they wonder what is going on.

Wonder no more. $765,652 was enough to buy influence during the 2004-2005 sessions. With big oil working to defeat the gas cap, and since this is an election year, expect the jackpot to be even larger this time around.

Stay tuned. Check out also Hawaii's latest political blog, blast-em.blogspot.com.


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