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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Best wishes!

December 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Happy whatever!

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State Ethics Commission staff recommend closing lobbyist disclosure loopholes

December 21st, 2014 · 1 Comment

One of the matters considered by the State Ethics Commission at its meeting this past week was a recap of their interpretations of the provision for lobbyist registration and reporting (“State Ethics Commission Staff Recommendation Regarding Registration And Reporting Requirements For Lobbyists And Organizations That Engage In Lobbying Activities“).

Hawaii law requires lobbyists to register with the commission and report on their expenditures if they meet a combination of conditions: (a) they are paid to lobby; and either (b) spend more than five hours in any month lobbying, or (c) spend more than $750 in a reporting period. Whether a person is paid as a professional lobbyist, or lobbies as part of their regular paid employment, doesn’t matter. If you’re paid, you meet the first condition.

Volunteer lobbyists, such as those who represent community groups or nonprofit organizations at the legislature, are not required to lobby.

However, organizations that rely on volunteer lobbyists, or engage in grassroots lobbying (urging members of the public to communicate with legislators about legislation), would be required to register and report their lobbying costs if the organization hits either the 5-hours or $750 threshold.

The commission presented an example:

A grassroots organization does not employ a lobbyist, but the organization spends $1,000 for newspaper and television ads urging the public to contact their legislators about a bill. The organization pays for the ads using contributions received from its members for its lobbying activities. The organization must file a lobbying report. The report must include the organization’s advertising expenditures and contributions received by the organization for the purpose of lobbying.

The state lobbyist law exempts anyone who has special knowledge about an issue and is “occasionally” requested to appear at the legislature by a member, and administrative agency, or even a lobbyist.

The ethics staff are recommending that this exemption be narrowly construed.

The Commission has determined that it construes this exemption narrowly and believes that it applies to persons who provide expert information to the legislature, but does not apply to lobbyists or other persons who attempt to advocate for a position, encourage a particular result, or otherwise influence legislative action. Persons who provide information to the legislature or attempt to “educate” the legislature for the purpose of advocating for a position are not exempt from the requirements of the Lobbyists Law.

Another staff interpretation helps to close a reporting loophole. Lobbyists are required to publicly disclose their expenditures, but the statute exempts “the expenses of preparing written testimony and exhibits for a hearing before the legislature or an administrative agency.”

This has been used by some lobbyists or organizations to avoid reporting substantial costs. The commission notes, for example, “it appears that some lobbyists or organizations that employ lobbyists do not report lobbying expenses relating to the research, drafting, and submission of written testimony and exhibits for a hearing.”

This is not the intent of the law, according to the staff recommendation. Instead, the exemption is only for “administrative expenses incurred to prepare and submit written testimony.” Essentially, clerical services to prepare copies and actual copying costs are what they’re talking about.

On the other hand, according to the staff recommendation, “compensation paid to a lobbyist for researching or drafting testimony or exhibits for a hearing must be reported as a lobbying expenditure.”

The staff recommendation also clarifies that in-kind or non monetary contributions received by an organization engaged in grassroots lobbying must be reported if they meet the other reporting conditions.

The commission gave this example:

A grassroots organization organizes its members to rally the public to urge legislators to vote against a bill. One of the members owns a sign company and donates 50 signs for members to use at the rally. The signs are considered a contribution and the organization must report the name of the person who contributed the signs and the fair market value of the signs on the organization’s lobbying report.

Under current state law, responsibility for reporting of lobbying expenditures is split between the organization that employs a lobbyist, and the lobbyist. Money spent by a lobbyist but reimbursed by the client should be reported by the client organization, while lobbyists are required to disclose their out of pocket expenditures which are not reimbursed.

The commission staff have now proposed closing another loophole in this disclosure provision.

In some cases, organizations provide lump sum payments to lobbyists to cover the lobbyists’ fees and all lobbying expenses. The lobbyists uses some of this amount to pay for lobbying expenses and retain the rest as fees for their lobbying services. Where these payments are not itemized or attributed as payments by the organizations for specific expenses, staff believes the lobbyists must report the lobbying expenses on their individual lobbying reports. Staff recommends the Commission adopt this interpretation of the Lobbyists Law’s reporting requirement.

Another loophole involves travel costs. When calculating whether an organization or a lobbyist expend more than $750 in a reporting period, travel costs do not have to be counted.

But the commission staff note that once a person or organization hits the threshold for registering or reporting expenses, those reports must include all expenditures, including any travel costs. This is a sea change and, if approved, will result in more complete disclosure.

Now I’ve got to backtrack and determine what action, if any, the commission itself took on these recommendations.

→ 1 CommentTags: Ethics · Legislature · lobbyists · Politics

Aloha United Way flexes political muscle to rebuff ethics recommendation

December 20th, 2014 · 3 Comments

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to attend this week’s State Ethics Commission meeting on December 17th, since it was filled with important and interesting topics.

The items up for review included interpretations of several ethics provisions.

It was a heavy load for a commission with a relatively new chairman and two relatively new members.

Among the agenda items:

Commission to Consider Issuing Guidance to the State Administration Regarding Fundraising for Private Charities in State Offices. See staff recommendations.

Commission to Reconsider Current Interpretation of Hawaii Revised Statutes Sections 84-14(d), 84-18(b), and 84-18(c). See staff recommendations.

Commission to Consider Issues Relating to the Registration and Reporting Requirements for Lobbyists and Organizations that Engage in Lobbying Activities. See staff recommendations.

The only item to draw news coverage was the commission’s rejection of a staff recommendation that the state shift its support from the Aloha United Way as a central charitable fundraising program with a “combined campaign” that relies primarily on donor choice (see the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Officials dismiss proposal by staffers to cut AUW“).

The staff recommendation was bound to be controversial because it took the position that aspects of the AUW fundraising violate key provisions of the State Ethics Law because it provides an unwarranted advantage to AUW over competing nonprofit organizations.

During the meeting, however, the staff recommendations were set aside when none of the commissioners would offer a motion to adopt them, and the chairman spoke in favor of AUW.

Although commission meetings often include wide-ranging discussions of staff recommendations, it’s relatively unusual for them to be rejected in total, as in this case.

It may be that this was an isolated situation involving a politically very well connected nonprofit organization, since the AUW board of directors is like a Who’s Who of the business and labor power elite. But the commission’s action could also be an indication an unwillingness by the current commissioners to back up the relatively hard-line positions taken by the commission’s executive director, Les Kondo. This is a situation that deserves careful monitoring in the months ahead.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Ethics · lobbyists · Politics

Our electricity is going off, soon!

December 20th, 2014 · No Comments

Contractors working for Hawaiian Electric started work at 7 a.m. to replace the pole that is on the street just outside our driveway. We received a warning letter announcing the work and resulting power outage several days ago. I did move the car when we left for our walk around 6:30, so that’s not a problem. And we’re hoping that the coffee will be done before they pull the plug on us.

What I can’t promise is whether I’ll get to post anything before the power goes out. I may be able to cobble something together.

We’ll see.

If not, I’ll try to get back here when I can later today.

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Feline Friday: Our cats and a few “friends”

December 19th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Mr. RomeoMr. Romeo welcomes you to another Feline Friday, almost the last of 2014.

As you can see, he’s looking pretty good these days. He’s slimmed down from his chubby form factor, and seems to feel good as well. He primarily eats a diet food, and over time I think it’s largely responsible for his new svelte self.

Meanwhile, we’re coping with the unpleasant news about Ms. Harry, and for now at least, she’s doing okay.

This week I’ve also included several other cats among the week’s photos. There’s a photo of Lumber, the orange cat that has caused Romeo so much grief, and another of Poobah, the kitten who has been adopted next door. Finally, there’s the cat we met among the music CDs at Hilo Bay Books last weekend.

–>See all of this week’s Friday Felines!

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