Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Speaker Joe Souki advertises fundraiser during session far, far from his constituents
by Larry Geller
How nice of Speaker of the House Joe Souki to offer an evening of his time at a Waikiki hotel. The ad appeared in today’s Star-Advertiser here on Oahu.
How nice for lobbyists and special interests who want to buy access to the Speaker. But it’s not so nice for his constituents. Souki represents the 8th House district, Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku and Waikapu on the island of Maui.
How many of Souki’s constituents will attend his shindig? Probably close to zero. I just checked the Hawaiian Airlines website for a deal including staying overnight at the same hotel as Souki’s event, and before all the fees they pile on, it’s $300.85 for a package deal, not including transportation to the hotel. That would be an expensive evening with Joe Souki for any of his constituents. The fundraiser is clearly aimed at folks on Oahu. And he didn’t say “no lobbyists allowed,” did he.
There are many problems with holding a fundraiser during session. Perhaps the most blatant is that lobbyists and organizations who will attend and drop their contributions in his hat may very well have matters pending at the Legislature that he is in a position to advance.
Just as an example—yesterday I reported that Souki approved a waiver of public notice so that a bill that would commit $100 million in bonds to enable establishment of a motorsport center on Oahu could be heard only 48 minutes after the notice. Strangely (?) the racetrack folks knew about it and got their testimony in, but there was no testimony against. How exactly did that come about? Clearly, Souki’s approval of the waiver greased the track for that bill and others on the same agenda.
I admit to not having done the research, but just theoretically—did supporters of any of the bills on the agenda contribute to the campaigns of either Souki or the Finance Committee Chair, Sylvia Luke, who requested the waiver and made that travesty of democracy possible? Just take it as a hypothetical question. It could be any bill, any special interest during the legislative session. The Speaker has a powerful role in advancing or impeding legislation.
The way things work, we won’t even know, during the session, who shows up with bags of gold for the Speaker on March 17 until reports are in, much later in the year.
If there were ethics in politics, then responsible politicians would not hold fundraisers during session. As it is, there oughta be a law.
Check out the Campaign Spending Commission reports, just about all of the legislators have fundraisers on Oahu during the legislative session. For neighbor island folks, it's an opportunity to raise money for their campaigns while they are on Oahu. Most candidates also raise money back home. Unfortunately, running for office costs money. Big ticket items primarily include reaching out to constituents through public meetings, coffee hours, and the media (including the materials needed for those efforts). Most campaigns can't afford to pay staff, so another big expense is buying lunches for hardworking volunteers. I agree, we should always be vigilant about pay-to-play scenarios, but raising money during the legislative session, especially for neighbor island legislators, should not be construed as bad behavior per se.