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Monday, May 19, 2014
Transparency and Influence: A Report from the Secret Dialogue on Hawaii Lobbying
By News Release @ 1:57 PM :: 3677 Views :: Ethics

Transparency and Influence a White Paper from the Dialogue on Lobbying

Dialogue on Lobbying--Why this project?

News Release from Accord Consultants

In a 50-state comparison of “Lobbying Disclosures” done by the State Integrity Project, Hawaii ranked "D-". In Hawaii, as elsewhere, lobbying is a sensitive matter that has implications and expectations for how government, business, the media, and the public are expected to function.

Hawaii’s “D-“ derived from a series of indicators and individual scores as follows:

1.   Is there a clear definition of a lobbyist in Hawaii?  Score = 83%
2.   Are lobbyists required to register with the state? Score = 31%
3.   Are lobbyists required to disclose spending? Score = 68%
4.   Are lobbyists’ employers or principals required to disclose spending? Score =  100%
5.   Can citizens access the information reported from lobbyists to state government? Score = 66%
6.   Is there effective monitoring of lobbying disclosure requirements? Score = 25%

This and other ratings were part of a much wider national, state-by-state look at issues of governance, accountability, transparency and how the public’s business is conducted.

This project jumps off from that score. Funded by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) to the Collaborative Leader’s Network, the project will bring together a small, disciplined, and diverse group of knowledgeable individuals as a study group to examine issues associated with lobbying and to make appropriate recommendations.

  *   *   *   *   *

CB: Will Lawmakers Ever Do Anything About Lobbyists?

Peter Adler, a veteran facilitator who specializes in dispute resolution and mediation, organized a study group to tackle one area in which Hawaii was rated particularly low — lobbying laws and lobbying practices. The public's lack of ability to effectively track how lobbyists were influencing lawmakers earned Hawaii a D-.

Adler rounded up about 20 people interested in the issue – lawmakers, lobbyists, people who hire lobbyists, journalists, watchdog groups and others. But it wasn't just a local coffee klatch. He conducted a disciplined and formal process to explore the issues, which is why the results should be taken very seriously by political leaders.

Full disclosure: I was involved in the early talks about organizing this effort but dropped out because of the clear conflicts of interest on a number of levels. I did attend the initial gathering of the study group — a year ago — at Adler's request to give an overview of the State Integrity Project and how Civil Beat did the research.

So I can tell you that journalists in the group — including Ian Lind, Denby Fawcett, Ikaika Hussey and Daryl Huff — had to agree not to report about what was said or who said what during the entire process. They appear to have honored that restriction. I've not seen any reporting on the effort other than a brief mention in a Civil Beat story on lobbying reform earlier this year. In a column for Civil Beat earlier this week — the day the report came out — Lind discussed lobbying and some of the problems with the lack of transparency in Hawaii causes, but didn't really go into detail about what the study group actually talked about....

...the final report takes great pains to characterize the 11 points it comes up with as just "ideas for future discussion" and not recommendations. In fact, two of the lobbyists who participated — Bob Toyofuko and Gary Slovin — felt the need to write a dissenting opinion to make it crystal clear they don't agree with all of the statements included in the ideas....

The report "ideas" include:

  • "Improve Electronic Databases: The databases that the state uses to report lobbying filings, along with many other financial disclosures, are not user-friendly. The Study Group is aware that improvements to the state’s IT infrastructure are under way, but 'traceability' and the ability to understand financial disclosures by lobbyists and legislators will build greater confidence and should be a goal."

  • "Lobbyists are not currently required to disclose their own campaign contributions. The information can be pieced together from legislator disclosures but that information would seem integral to understanding paid lobbyist influence and should be filed with other lobbying reports. Just as candidates report lobbyist donations over $100, lobbyists should include campaign donations in their public lobbying reports and treat all donations as part of their lobbying effort."

  • "Require Monthly Filings: Currently, lobbyists file three reports annually: two during the legislative session, and one after the legislature has concluded its business. Given the sophisticated electronic capabilities of lobbyists and the organizations that retain them, filings in Hawai‘i could be done monthly as is done in some other states ... (T)he benefits to the public in monthly filing come in the form of transparency by having more thorough access to expenditures all the way through to the end of the legislative session."

  • "Make Legislators' Calendars Public Record: Transparency is the key to reducing some of the public skepticism that surrounds lobbying. Lobbyists currently disclose their general categories of lobbying activity, but the categories do not reveal much. Reports include hours and expenditures, but do not include with whom the lobbyists actually met, the specific expenses and bills related to lobbying for legislation, administrative rule changes, permits or approvals being sought, and other actions. Making better descriptions of lobbying activities available to the public would provide greater transparency, traceability, and accountability, but may also be impractical or become overly burdensome... (M)ake legislators responsible for more transparency. This can be as simple as posting calendars with records of all formal meetings held in a legislator’s office and making them available to the public."

  • "Disclose Relationships and Job Connections: Neither lobbyists, the organization they represent, nor legislators, are currently required to disclose any contracts they may have with each other, particularly legislators who are attorneys, realtors, CPAs, insurance agents, contractors, marketing experts, media experts, or other consulting specialists ... (L)obbyists are not currently required to disclose what boards they sit on or what memberships they may have in various nonprofit or special interest organizations. Reporting all contractual relationships with public officials, including contract amounts and services/products provided, and disclosing professional and social memberships, will improve everyone’s understanding of how influence actually works on a case-by-case instance when the need for traceability arises."

  • "Disclose Authorship of Proposed Legislation: One further step toward transparency might be to make note of bills that are submitted by request from lobbyists, unpaid advocates, and others. A transparent system not only requires that the source of proposed legislation be cited, but that it tracks correspondence between a legislator and the volunteer advocates and critics of such legislation. Documenting a bill’s evolution for the purpose of transparency can be done practically if both members of the House and Senate were required to follow the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) and the Sunshine Law."

  • "Strengthen the Ethics Commission: The Ethics Commission is perennially underfunded and does not have the resources, infrastructure, or the legislative support it needs to effectively do its job. The Study Group’s discussions suggest that Hawai‘i’s laws can be improved, but without better monitoring and enforcement, changes to the rules and regulations will probably not, by themselves, make a great difference."


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