Critics say Hawaii political money hard to trace


HONOLULU (AP) — It’s been months since same-sex marriage became legal in Hawaii, but taxpayers still don’t know how much money supporters or opponents spent to influence the decision.

Lobbyists are supposed to disclose how much money they’re spending to influence lawmakers, but critics said the state disclosure system is among the weakest in the nation and prevents a timely and complete tally.

It could be nothing improper took place, but “if you don’t have the information then how do you even know to have a concern?” asked Democratic state Sen. Les Ihara, who introduced legislation he hopes will strengthen the system.

Ihara’s measures aim to close gaps that allowed more than 90 percent of nearly 200 registered individual lobbyists to report zero expenses during three reporting periods last year, according to reviews by the Associated Press.

According to the current law, lobbyists are required to list expenditures worth more than $25 toward one person in one day or $150 to one person during a reporting period, which is similar to disclosure rules that apply at the federal level.

But Ihara, the majority policy leader, said lobbyists in Hawaii operate under a longtime interpretation of the law by the state ethics commission that if the money they spend comes from an organization such as a business or advocacy group, they don’t have to report it in the disclosure system. The ethics panel’s position, Ihara said, remains that requiring that level of reporting would be duplicative. But “the ethics commission has misinterpreted the law,” he said.

Les Kondo, the commission’s executive director, declined to comment on the practice.

Lobbyist Scott Matsuura, a lobbyist who reported zero expenditures, said he and his colleagues have abided by the rules the state outlined.

“For most of us, we’re following what we’ve been told to do,” he said.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, gave Hawaii a D-minus for its lobbying disclosure practices on a 2012 report. The state’s system has not changed since that review.

 

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