Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Shouldn’t we be concerned if a legislator’s “mental errors” result in false statements?
Souki says “mental errors” made it look like he’d doubled his investments in Hawaiian Electric Industries. If so, those weren’t the only inaccuracies.—Ian Lind, writing in Civil Beat
by Larry Geller
Ian Lind continued today his pursuit of House Speaker Joseph Souki’s erroneous financial disclosure filings:
House Speaker Joe Souki this week denied reports that he more than doubled his investment in Hawaiian Electric Industries in late 2013, as top NextEra executives were readying their preliminary bid for the island utility.
The backpeddling is a little awkward for the Maui representative, since the reports involved are his own annual financial disclosures filed with the state Ethics Commission as required by law.
[Civil Beat, Ian Lind: House Speaker Joe Souki’s Financial Reports Are Full of Errors, 6/27/2015]
I don’t buy the “mental error” excuse.
Can it be that all the incorrect filings are “mental errors” as the Speaker declared? Ian listed up a few more of them.
If true, then perhaps Souki should resign. “Mental errors” sufficiently severe to cause a person to, for example, check “None” for each of his financial sources that need to be disclosed on an official form and then certify that his report is correct may indicate some deeper problem for which the Speaker might seek professional advice.
There are others who could effectively take on the speaker’s mantle while he seeks help.
But I don’t think that excuse is valid, though he needed to say something.
I’ll stick for a moment with my earlier theory, which would apply to perhaps most of the recent false filings by legislators: Hawaii’s legislators know that they will suffer no penalties for filing incomplete, erroneous, or false financial disclosures. The Ethics Commission is not going to move against them. So no need to file what they don’t want to file.
Let’s go back to another of Ian’s articles, this one from 2011:
The State Ethics Commission was “troubled” by Senator Clayton Hee’s filing of inaccurate or incomplete personal financial disclosure statements over a period of five years or more, but took no further action against the windward Oahu senator.
[ilind.net, Senator Hee escapes ethics penalties despite commission concerns, 10/22/2011]
Hee was a “politically powerful Senator” but there are likely plenty of errors among the multitude of reports filed by lesser lights. I singled out several last year.
How can this be? Ian explains in his Civil Beat article:
Thumbing His Nose?
The commission’s problems in confronting this are two-fold.
First, there’s a huge practical problem. The commission lacks the budget or staffing necessary to do anything more than minimal reviews of the financial disclosures it receives each year from elected and appointed officials and employees.
There are currently about 1,900 financial disclosures filed with the commission annually, including nearly 800 board and commission members, as well as legislators, legislative staff, top administrators, fiscal officers and others. The public only sees the 450 or so that by law are considered public records, but all 1,900 have to be processed, minimally screened, and filed.
As a result, the commission relies on concerned citizens, the media or, in the case of elected officials, their political opponents, to act as watchdogs, scrutinizing financial disclosures and pointing out discrepancies, omissions, or falsehoods, along with potential conflicts of interest.
In these cases, the resulting adverse publicity is really the primary, most effective, and most potent sanction available.
I disagree strongly with Ian here. The adverse publicity around Hee’s five years of erroneous reports did not cause the legislators I identified to even file amended reports. It clearly didn’t cause Souki to focus his mind more intently on filing correct disclosures, as required by law.
There needs to be followup—somehow—by the Ethics Commission or by someone—that will fulfill the purpose and intent of having legislators’ financial information disclosed.
If Souki is not penalized, there will be another after him. And another, and so on.
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