by Andrew Walden
The Ethics Commission is only as good as the laws it enforces. That's what one Kakaako resident is learning after Hawai'i Free Press exposed the fact that Senator Brickwood Galuteria was on the payroll of a non-profit chaired by Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Robert Lindsey while going against his own constituents to push OHA's multi-million dollar Kakaako Makai development scheme in the 2014 legislative session.
In an October 2, 2014 letter, the Ethics Commission responds to a September 29, 2014 complaint by Kakaako resident Richard Baker against Galuteria. The Ethics Commission tells Baker it cannot initiate an investigation, explaining:
We understand you to allege that Senator Galuteria may have violated the conflicts-of-interests section of the State Ethics Code by introducing and voting in favor of legislation relating to the Office of Hawaii Affairs ("OHA'') during the 2014 legislative session. Your allegation appears to be based on Senator Galuteria's employment with the Pelatron Center for Economic Development ("PCED"), a not-for-profit organization established to advance and promote the economic welfare of the Native Hawaiian Community. The article indicates that Robert K. Lindsey, Jr., is the chairman of PCED's board of directors; Mr. Lindsey is also a-member of OHA's board of trustees.
The State Ethics Code does not prohibit legislators from introducing or voting on legislation, even legislation that affects their non-state employment interests. More specifically, the fair treatment section of the statute, which prohibits a legislator from using his official position to secure "unwarranted" advantages for himself or others, expressly does not prohibit a legislator from "introducing bills ... or from making statements or taking official action as a legislator[.]"1 Similarly, legislators are not subject to the part of the conflicts of interest law that prohibits state employees from taking official action that directly affects their private employers.2
Although legislators may not, for pay, assist or represent a private entity before the legislature,3 based on the information you provided, it does not appear that Senator Galuteria was doing so. The article contains no suggestion that Senator Galuteria was assisting or representing PCED during the legislative session; rather, the article simply details the actions that Senator Galuteria took in his legislative capacity: he made statements about a bill that transferred Kakaako Makai to OHA; he introduced Senate Bill No. 3122 and other OHA-related legislation; and he voted in favor of Senate Bill No. 3122 on a number of occasions. Senator Galuteria's actions, as described in the article, appear to fall within his official duties as a legislator. Thus, the alleged conduct that appears to be the basis of your complaint does not appear to raise a prohibited conflict of interest or other misconduct under the State Ethics Code.
The lesson here? If you ever need to buy some Senators and Representatives, create 'positions' and give them 'salaries.' They can introduce legislation on your behalf, push it through their committees, and speak in favor of it on the floor and in the media.
Until legislators rewrite the law, it is all legal.
Read: Ethics Commission Letter
Galuteria Pushed Kakaako Makai Bill While on Payroll of OHA Trustee
Ethics Complaint Filed: Call for Galuteria to Resign