Sunday, May 22, 2011
State ethics commission may need overhaul
by Larry Geller
Ian Lind reported Saturday that it appears that Senator Clayton Hee has fled false representations on required disclosures to the state Ethics Commission—see: Politically powerful state senator files false ethics reports (ilind.net, 5/21/2011).
This raises several important issues, assuming that the Ethics Commission is supposed to do more than just receive documents from public officials. Among the issues might be:
1) Does anyone read the documents, and what level of fact checking are they subjected to?
2) Does the Ethics Commission have a sufficient budget to do its job?
3) Are available penalties appropriate, or should the legislature put more teeth into the statutory reporting requirements (fat chance, since they themselves would be subject to those penalties)?
Aside from the issues related to the Ethics Commission, Ian speculates on whether Hee will be prosecuted. I would like to add a question of whether the Senate will take action against apparent lawbreaking by one of its members.
Disappeared News highlighted other oversight issues earlier this year. It seems that organizations holding expensive events for legislators at (for example) the Pacific Club reported their lobbying expenses, but the lobbyist reports fail to show the corresponding expenditures. Also, the lobbyist reports are not made public on the Ethics Commission website as are the organization reports. Basically, you’d have to go down to the Ethics Commission offices to view the reports.
Despite the revelations, the problem has not been solved, nor is it known what actions the Ethics Commission might have taken once the discrepancies were called to its attention.
A more general question: Is the Ethics Commission functioning at all?
The Ethics Commission has not issued an opinion since 2006 (the one before that was in 2004). In fact, that last opinion was on an issue raised by Disappeared News, on the subject of “embedded lobbyists.” that is, corporate executives working as “interns” right inside legislative offices. The “intern” at issue was the Executive Administrator of HMSA Foundation, working elbow to elbow with Rep. Bob Herkes, right there in the representative’s office--but the Legislature was also infested with others, from HECO, for example.
I submitted a request to the Ethics Commission but it was ignored. Then Rep. Bev Harbin submitted a similar request and the Ethics Commission could not ignore that.
Rules were changed the following session and the rats were exterminated from the offices of the Legislature.
Will Ian’s investigation bring about badly needed changes at the Ethics Commission? Will there be any official investigation of Sen. Hee’s representations? Only if more of us raise a fuss.