Wednesday, July 21, 2010

 

Transparency and Accountability


By Henry Curtis

Act 221

The Star Advertiser Editorial (July 21, 2010) stated: “The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism now reports that 82 of 141 companies accepting the tax breaks had no full-time employees in 2008. Many of those companies may be fraudulent ... Indeed, the Lingle administration calculated six years ago that as many as 20 percent of the claims for research credits could have been illegal, based on an audit of only a portion of them. While DBEDT's report raises serious questions, it isn't completely negative. The other 59 of the 141 companies created 697 jobs”

The Act allowed some companies to obtain tax breaks. The loss of revenue was made up for by taxing the rest of us. Which companies got the tax breaks? Which companies took the money and left town? Were jobs “created” by moving people around within companies? Did the jobs go to residents or were people imported? Why aren’t the answers known?

Athletic Fees

Ian Lind (July 12, 2010) noted that the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents recently required students to pony up $50/year to support athletics. At the same time, the University of Hawaii “VP for Research (salary: $222,720) got two basketball season tickets, the VP for academic planning & policy (salary: $284,808) got football tickets, the university’s general counsel and VP for legal affairs (salary: $218,784) took a pair of free season tickets for women’s volleyball, football, men’s basketball, men’s volleyball, and baseball.”

This practice is not isolated to UH. It often involves golf club membership and/or games with celebrities and power brokers; real estate deals where one could buy and sell the same unit in one day making $100,000; and being bumped to the top of the list for condos and yacht berths.

Embedded Lobbyists

Disappeared News (June 16, 2010): “Mr. Mollway was put on administrative leave in February, thereby depriving the public of his services. The annual legislative package could not be introduced, and Mollway was not available to consult on issues that usually arise during any legislative session. As an example of issues that might arise, during the 2006 legislative session, Disappeared News filed one of two complaints with the Ethics Commission on “embedded lobbyists,” that is, high-level corporate executives hired as “interns” and working side-by-side with legislators in their State Capitol offices. As a result of Mr. Mollway’s response, corporate interns were banned from the Legislature the following session.”

Companies have found other ways to continue to influence legislators by hiring relatives of legislators, hold signs in legislative races, banquets and other freebies, and conducting other non-reported lobbying.

Executive Branch Disclosure

Proposed Hawaii Law -- SB 2224 (2010): “Hawaii Revised Statutes §84-17(c) requires key members of government to file a financial disclosure statement to be filed with the State of Hawaii. These individuals include the Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT); the Executive Director of the Division of Consumer Advocacy of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs; the Commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission; and the Board Members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. However, with the exception of the Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), none of these financial statements are publicly available.”

When a bad proposal makes its way through regulatory agencies, the government knows a lot about the decision-makers, but that information is restricted from the public.

A Solution

The common problem is the lack of sunshine, the lack of transparency. Money, like water, seeps through the cracks. It always finds a way in. Some believe that the answer is public funding for all elections. An alternative approach can be borrowed from legal toxic releases by corporations.

Companies can get into a huge liability issue (civil and criminal) for not reporting releases, but are usually let off with minor penalties if they admit the problem.

What if gift giving were publicly listed on a government website? What if citizen suits were allowed for gifts not reported? What is the cost of the suit could be recovered from both the receiver and the giver? What if the statute of limitations was 20 years? What if the public knew at election time who was greasing whom?

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Comments:

Roland Sagum. Influence peddling. Heʻs got it down. The only legislator I have witnessed that repeatedly testifies before County Council and Planning Commission on behalf of private businesses.
This example may be in reverse of what you have presented but itʻs the same animal coming through a different door.

We donʻt elect these clowns to further enhance their comfort zones or lifestyles but they all seem to think itʻs a big fat paid vacation to sit in one of those seats at the legislature.
 

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