Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Culture of corruption deeply entrenched in Honolulu City Council

…Transparency exposes what is wrong, but offers no right. Punishment may serve prevention, but outsmarting Rule of Law may also become a national sport, like tax evasion. Moreover, corruption may be seen as legitimate in a culture of corruption.

by Larry Geller

The pull-quote is snipped from the previous article, Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: Corruption: Theory, Prognosis, Solutions? (10/17/2015). Arguably, Hawaii has exactly this: a culture of corruption.

What I have in mind is the Honolulu City Council re-vote on rail issues. Dr. Kioni Dudley made a good case that members of our City Council are hopelessly corrupted by the money they have accepted from rail/development interests (note: I have not verified the numbers):

Ann Kobayashi got 43%  and Joey Manahan got 46%, far too much to pass up next time by voting wrong.  Trevor Ozawa was next at 57%.

Carol Fukunaga collected 40% of her campaign contributions from the construction community.  But recent research uncovered the fact that PRP spent a separate $86,000 on advertising in order to get her elected, bringing her total support from construction to $190,565 and her percentage up to 57%.

Council Chair Ernie Martin came in at 59%, but that represented $258,000, certainly a big enough hunk of cash to assure he would do anything needed.

Stunning as it might be, nearly three quarters of the campaign contributions--72%-- collected by Ron Menor, Ikaika Anderson, and Kymberly Pine came from developers, builders, unions, and others in the construction community.  Three quarters of their campaign chest!  Could they possibly vote against any project?

In addition, during the last four months of Ikaika Anderson’s campaign for Congress in 2012, his campaign manager was hired and paid a salary by PRP for a job as their Government Relations Manager.  She still holds this position and regularly sends testimony from PRP asking the council to support various projects.

Kymberly Pine also had marvelous additional help from PRP who paid for three mailings at roughly $30,000 each to get her elected.  That $90,000 raised her percentage of money spent by builders for her candidacy to 82%!

All this on-the-take is topped by the case of freshman council member Brandon Elefante.  Elefante collected $13,000 from ordinary people.  He received almost twice that much from builders and unions.  He then allowed PRP, in their new disguise as Forward Progress, to spend another $105,000 to secure his victory.  Having brought in only $13,000 from local citizens, he won with $130,000, ten times as much.  His percentage of indebtedness to entities who will profit directly from approval of Rail: 91%.

None of these contributions broke the law.  But they obviously created a MAJOR conflict with the public’s interest.  The contributions were also so great, and the indebtedness so deep, that it was, AND IS, impossible for any council member to vote against ANY project the building community wants.

[Op-Ed: Honolulu City Council Revote on Rail a Mockery, 10/14/2015]

Given the extent that, according to Dudley’s research, these citycouncilpeople are beholden to those who have so generously financed their campaigns, it doesn’t matter how many times they re-vote on rail or development issues. Each vote is equally and irredeemably corrupted by the money.

About the only remedy, and it won’t happen, would be for these politicians to return the contributions and announce publicly that their loyalties rest with the people they were elected to represent, not with corporations able to spread out the money on the table.

I suppose Galtung’s solution might work—positive ways to integrity—but only if we work on getting there. In Hawaii that will be a lot of work because the culture of corruption is very deeply entrenched here.


Public official accepting bribe in a snip from a Mito Komon program, a popular Japanese period drama that ran for many seasons. Bribery was a common theme—because there was also a culture of corruption in Japan (and still is!). In the next frame, the public official notes how satisfyingly heavy the box is. All this, observed by a ninja hiding above in the ceiling.


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