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Conflict of Interest: Ige Was Both Legislator and Lobbyist While Serving on Committee Overseeing His Employer
By Selected News Articles @ 5:48 AM :: 9434 Views :: Ethics, Hawaii History, Politicians

Sen. Ige now a GTE lobbyist--He says he will avoid a conflict of interest and not lobby his peers

by Mike Yuen, Star-Bulletin, February 10, 1998

Senate Consumer Protection Co-Chairman David Ige is now the lobbyist for his employer, GTE Hawaiian Tel, but he says there will be no conflict of interest between his legislative role and his lobbying job.

The Pearl City Democrat will, for example, lobby only federal and county officials -- not state officials or his legislative colleagues.

But Desmond Byrne, chairman of the watchdog group Common Cause Hawaii, says: "I don't believe legislators should be lobbyists. I'm not comfortable with legislators being lobbyists for corporations, although they might say they can divide up their roles.

"I just feel it compromises their independence as a legislator.

"But I'm not saying there's anything legally wrong with it."

Ige's colleagues acknowledge that his new role for Hawaiian Tel could at the very least create the appearance of a conflict of interest. But they also give Ige high marks for integrity.

"David is an honest individual of the highest character," says Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani).

"I trust him to conduct himself appropriately."

At the beginning of the year, Hawaiian Tel promoted Ige, 41, from network design senior administrator to governmental affairs director. It was a position for which he applied, Ige says.

Now, instead of the company's governmental affairs director lobbying at all levels of government, it is the responsibility of Hawaiian Tel's vice president for external affairs and Ige's boss, Joel Matsunaga, to lobby legislators and other state officials.

The redefined responsibilities for Hawaiian Tel's governmental affairs director mean Ige doesn't have to register as a lobbyist with the state Ethics Commission -- which he hasn't -- but he has to register with the city -- which he has.

Ige's predecessor, William Santos, was registered with the state as a lobbyist.

Matsunaga says he had discussions with Ige, both before and after Ige was promoted, on the need to negate potential conflicts of interest.

Ige, a 16-year Hawaiian Tel employee who takes an unpaid leave of absence during the legislative session, says his fellow Consumer Protection co-chairman, Sen. Wayne Metcalf (D, Hilo), is responsible for matters relating to the Public Utilities Commission.

And since Hawaiian Tel is an industry regulated by the PUC and most of its concerns come before the commission, his co-chairmanship of the Senate panel should not be a conflict of interest, Ige adds.

Moreover, he has discussed with Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) and Senate staff attorneys his new Hawaiian Tel position and he won't vote on matters that present a conflict, Ige says.

"I work very hard at ensuring that any potential conflict is . . . taken care of," Ige stresses.

Common Cause's Byrne says it is important for lawmakers to declare potential conflicts of interest during committee votes, not just during floor votes. Historically, House and Senate leaders have usually declared no conflict and allowed legislators raising the question of their potential conflicts to go ahead and take part in floor votes, Byrne says.

He hopes that Ige will recuse himself from telecommunications bills that come up for a vote, Byrne adds.

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Legislator shouldn’t be utility lobbyist

Star-Bulletin Editorial, February 11, 1998

CONFLICTS of interest are natural and expected in Hawaii's Legislature, where part-time lawmakers are obligated to make decisions that affect the companies they work for during the remainder of the year. Conflicts become more serious when legislators accept company positions devoted to influencing government decisions.

State Sen. David Ige, a Democrat who represents Pearl City, has accepted such a position.

Ige is an electrical engineer by training and, until recently, by profession. He held such a position at GTE Hawaiian Tel, when he was appointed in 1985 by then-Gov. John Waihee to fill a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives.

Eventually, Ige was promoted to the job of Hawaiian Tel's network design senior administrator. When the position of government affairs director became open, Ige applied. He was appointed to the post at the beginning of this year. In plain English, that means Ige's new job is chief lobbyist for the phone company, one of the most regulated companies in Hawaii.

Recognizing the anachronism of a legislator who is also a lobbyist, Ige has gone to great pains to gain acceptance of his dual role. He said that he will lobby only federal and county officials, not state officials or legislators, leaving that responsibility to Hawaiian Tel's vice president for external affairs.

Ige has registered with the city as a lobbyist but not with the state Ethics Commission. And, as co-chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, Ige has promised to allow co-chairman Wayne Metcalf to assume responsibility for matters relating to the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Hawaiian Tel. Ige pledges not to vote on matters that present a conflict.

However, all the maneuvering in the world by Ige to avoid the appearance of impropriety will not erase the impression that he was assigned to his present job at the phone company because of his position as a state senator. The interweaving of city, state and federal functions makes the confined activities that Ige prescribes for himself impossible to perform.

Senator Ige's conflict is inescapable and unacceptable. His district would be better served by an engineer rather than a lobbyist.

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