Thursday, July 26, 2012
Ethics Commission issues gentle reminder suggesting filers review their 2012 financial disclosure forms
by Larry Geller
It’s been a while since I revisited my March story, Financial disclosures the Ethics Commission should have caught… (March 1,2012) in which I highlighted three state legislator’s financial disclosures that appear to be incomplete but that escaped the attention of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. I checked in with the Ethics Commission website several times to see if any corrective action had been taken, but it has not.
The March article revealed that three legislators filed apparently incorrect financial disclosures for 2011. There certainly could have been more than three, but heck—it’s not my job to check these, it’s the job of the Ethics Commission staff. It’s not their fault that their budget is limited, of course, but still… they have had plenty of time to fix this. And they are required to do so. Yet there are still no amended forms on their website.
Again, here’s the certification that each candidate signs at the time they submit their disclosure form:
The March article linked to disclosures filed by Rep. Rida T.R. Cabanilla Arakawa, Senator Donavan Dela Cruz, and Rep. Scott Nishimoto. Checking just now, the three disclosures are unchanged.
What is new is a memorandum circulated by the Ethics Commission with instructions for filing amended returns for 2012 disclosures (see below). Snip:
It has come to our attention that some of the forms that were filed with our office were not completely filled out and that information that is required by law was not provided on some forms. We ask that you please review your completed form to ensure that you have provided all of the information that is requested for each item on the form.
This is unquestionably a positive step. For one thing, it puts legislators and state employees on notice that the Ethics Commission may be awakening, so they ought to check their forms for omissions. It’s also good practice.
In the corporate world, say an executive hears that some loudmouth in the Wichita office is making off-color remarks to female employees. Immediate disciplinary action is one option, but the employee may retaliate against the target of his language. Another option is to circulate a note to all employees reiterating the company policy against sexual harassment. The offending employee will likely figure out that the memo is targeted at him, though he can’t be sure, so retaliation is not as likely. If he changes his behavior, mission accomplished. If he continues, the next step will likely be to swiftly terminate him. And the exercise will then serve as a warning to others, and a demonstration that the company is serious about promulgating and enforcing its policy against sexual harassment.
But the Ethics Commission memo refers to only 2012 filings. The three I posted were 2011 forms. And they followed on the heels of Ian Lind’s article Politically powerful state senator files false ethics reports (ilind.net, 5/21/2011). The latter refers to financial forms filed in sequential years by the “politically powerful state senator” Clayton Hee (who, incidentally, is on the list of non-filers of candidate disclosure forms for the 2012 election). There is no indication that Sen. Hee was fined anything, nor that action was taken to fine the three legislators chosen for my March 1 article. Nor does the Senate President seem to take disciplinary action when rules or laws are broken.
Has the Ethics Commission adopted the “look forward, not back” policy of President Obama and Vice President Biden? When will amended forms appear on the Commission website? Can the Commission simply ignore the law and let prior transgressions stand?
Let's see: Politicians can't be trusted to file disclosures correctly or in a timely manner. We have to hire people to make them accountable, but they don't get enough money to have their staff look at the disclosures. Okay. But thanks to Larry and Ian, somebody might walk in to check a few disclosures and, when discrepancies are found, concerned citizens and local journalists can alert the public and the staff of the Ethics Commission. Of course, that doesn't mean that anything will be done right away, if ever. But we can expect a thundering warning followed by the $25.00 hammer? Isn't that less than those of us who are mere mortals pay some parking fines? You are right, at least there names are out. Of course, apparently not published by the brave Star Advertiser, stand ups for the people that they are.
At least Larry got some disclosures to look at. Sometimes they won't even say if an investigation is going on because of confidentiality. This law on ethics must have been written by an obvious evil genius who is probably now retired from politics, playing a pipe organ somewhere behind a curtain. So what does the office do and all the attorneys who work there? The winners are clearly the politicians who, thanks to the toothless law, can only have their wrists slapped, and the commission and staff who reside behind their own curtain doing something, we wishfully hope.
So what are the chances of beefing up the fine to about $1,000 and making deliberate fraud or misrepresentation in a disclosure at least a misdemeanor in the next session......let's see who will sponsor it.