Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Bob Herkes: “Lobbyists’ Favorite”
by Larry Geller
There was a good article in the Big Island Weekly today on efforts by their pols to derail the clean elections law passed last year.
I’ve snipped below the section on Big Island Representative Bob Herkes, who has been featured in this blog for a couple of things. First was his harboring of an “intern,” really an “embedded lobbyist” from HMSA Foundation, their Executive Administrator, no less. Then, of course, he pulled an amendment out of his hat that resulted that session in loss of insurance rate regulation, benefitting, of course, HMSA. Then he introduced a nasty bill that would have hurt state and county workers, all church employees, and all persons whose health insurance is not provided by their employers by taking away their right to appeal denials to the Insurance Commissioner. Again, benefitting HMSA. And most recently we’ve highlighted his $100 fundraisers held in the downtown Honolulu business district, during the session, and far away, of course, from his constituents on the Big Island.
As you’ll see in the snippet, Herkes “didn't have a single contributor with an address in his own district” in 2008. That’s not surprising. He was clearly interested in raising corporate/lobbyist money (that’s the point of holding an expensive fundraiser in town, isn’t it?). The newspaper ad also sells access, because for that $100 (or more) you get access in the form of “Breakfast with Bob.”
Note also the large
investments contributions from the health and insurance sector that the Weekly has identified.
Bob Herkes (D-Puna, Ka'u, Kona) didn't have a single contributor with an address in his own district. He did, however, accept money from 15 registered lobbyists, including Radcliffe ($2,000) and Botti ($2,000), many of whose clients had potential interests that would fall under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, which Herkes chairs. Among the committee's responsibilities are bills related to the regulation of health care, insurance, real estate, ground transportation, banking and other professional services. Herkes accepted more than $15,000 in contributions from health- and insurance-related interests, including $1,250 from the Hawaii Medical PAC; $1,000 from HMSA; $450 from HEMIC executive Bob Dove; $1,500 from the Hawaii Dental PAC; $2,000 from the Hawaii Insurance Council; and $2,000 from Island Insurance, $1,000 each from Marc Baptiste Jr. and Arnold Baptiste of the Hawaii Medical Management Alliance. Other big donors include Philip Morris ($2,000), the Plumbers Union ($2,000), Outrigger Hotels's OEPAC ($1,500), the Hawaii Association of Public Accountants' HAPA-PAC ($1,450), the Hawaii Association of Realtors' HARPAC ($1,500), Bail bondsman/bounty hunter Duane Chapman ($1,000), the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (the university teachers' union, $1,000), and the Hawaii Association of Professional Accountants ($1,200).
Herkes told the Weekly: "I don't pay any attention to who gives me money. I don't keep any records other than what's necessary for campaign spending."
Why did he attract so much money, then?
"I'm a businessman," he says. "I've been chair of the statewide hotel association. Naturally given my past and my business history, I'm known to the business community. I've also been involved with labor for years. I've sat across the table from the ILWU through strikes. But they know they can trust me, so I get support from them."
That didn't mean that he always voted the way his contributors wanted, he said.
"I've been at odds with the business community over the issue of regulation," he noted, for instance. "Businesses maintain that they are overregulated. Every time I try to (deregulate) a particular industry of profession, they object to it."
He noted, for example, that he had opposed a law saying that only dentists could give teeth-whitening treatments, because there had been no consumer complaints about whitening treatments given by non-dentists.
"The dentists give me fits," he remarked. "They want to bypass the HMOs and be paid directly by the consumer. That does not benefit the consumer, and I will not hear those bills."
Herkes did get money from the dentists -- a fact that seemed to surprise him when we mentioned it. But he got far more from medical insurers.
He said he raised money from outside his district because "My district's taken such a beating since the closing of the sugar mill.... If I did a fundraiser here, some of those ag guys that have been cleaned out might feel they been to support me, because of the help I've given them. I don't want them to feel obligated, so I'll get my money elsewhere."
All told, Herkes raised more than $60,000 for the 2008 elections. He ran unopposed. [Big Island Weekly, All Aboard, For A Scenic Ride On The Gravy Train - Were They Voting With Their Pocketbooks?, 4/29/2009]
I wonder if small business owners in his district realize his amendments favoring the insurers mean higher costs for them.
What a great argument for election reform.
The problem is fundamentally the people who elect (or don't vote at all) him into office and the people who elect all the other people who let him be the chairman of this committee.
His wife Jo Anna Herkes works as a Big Wig for SSFM. Chief Compliance Officer for Many Big Projects here in Hawaii:
They (SSFM) just admitted at the Public Information Meeting on the Highway 130 Project that SSFM received 1 million dollars to consult our "Community Meetings" and work as Liaisons between the state and the residents of Puna.
I don't know how or where to connect dot's... but a lot of money is floating around on things that take a long time to build... and it seems like this SSFM group is getting a lot of key contracts.