Legislators continue ethics fight

The Political Radar blog had an interesting item on a letter from legislative leaders asking the attorney general to weigh in on the Ethics Commission’s ruling that members of task forces and working groups formed by the Legislature must follow the same ethics rules on lobbying as members of other state boards and commissions.

I’ll leave it to the courts to decide the legalities, if legislators and the Ethics Commission push it that far.

But questions of what is illegal under the state’s narrow ethics laws and what is unethical are often two different things.

House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Shan Tsutsui said in their letter that legislators rely on task forces to gather expert information and that subjecting members to ethical restrictions on lobbying would have a “chilling effect.”

You could turn that around and argue that the Legislature’s reliance on task forces free of ethical reins has a chilling effect on openness, transparency and the public’s right to fair participation in the legislative process.

When lawmakers gather information by traditional means such as public hearings and workshops, everything is in the open and everybody gets their say.

When the information gathering is turned over to “experts” on shadowy task forces, the chosen few who are appointed have special access to legislators’ ears and everybody else is excluded from having a voice in a key part of the decision-making.

When the “experts” given exclusive access to legislators’ ears are paid lobbyists on the issue and often contributors to lawmakers’ campaigns, we have an ethics problem.

Say and Tsutsui contend that the Ethics Commission’s stance denies lobbyists and their employers their “constitutional right to petition government.”

That’s nonsense. They can petition government by writing letters and testifying at hearings like everybody else; they just don’t get privileged access.

An example of the problem is the task force that ignited the dispute — a panel on urban development formed by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz that required inclusion of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council, the General Contractors Association of Hawaii and “any other interested stakeholders or entities, including but not limited to developers, architects, and contractors.”

There was no required representation from the large part of the community that favors less development rather than more.

I said in a column that the membership list looks more like campaign donors dividing up the spoils than “experts,” and it invites shady dealings to allow such a group to operate without ethical restrictions.

About these ads
Explore posts in the same categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

7 Comments on “Legislators continue ethics fight”

  1. Doug Says:

    Shapiro writes:

    Say and Tsutsui contend that the Ethics Commission’s stance denies lobbyists and their employers their “constitutional right to petition government.”

    That’s nonsense. They can petition government by writing letters and testifying at hearings like everybody else; they just don’t get privileged access.

    You sure about that?

    That’s not how I interpret the EC stance. I understood it to mean that those named to a task force were not allowed to testify on the same subject. i.e. No “petitioning government” just like everybody else. i.e. The exact OPPOSITE of Shapiro’s ‘nonsense,” paragraph.

    One can like or dislike the EC opinion, but let’s at least agree what the opinion says.

  2. Andy Parx Says:

    Doug- I think by “privileged access” he means membership on the task force, not testifying while a member of the task force. That’s been my contention – that if you want to lobby you shouldn’t be allowed to be on boards and commissions (or task forces) that deal with your issue.
    Andy Parx

  3. David Shapiro Says:

    The no-lobby rule has long been applied to members of other state boards and it’s well-established that this doesn’t unreasonably inhibit the right to petition government. The issue is whether members of legislative task forces should be subject to the same rule.

  4. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Experts should be serving on task forces, boards & commissions. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with the experts testifying on specific issues before legislative bodies – as long as they reveal their professional relationships.

    For example, my SigOth is a CPA who specializes in a wide range of taxation issues – should he be denied a seat on a board or commission dealing with TAT or GET or income taxes or establishing the qualifications for licensing or certification? Should the board or commission be made up of auto mechanics or electrical engineers or school teachers?

    BAck to the above issue: I think the Ethics Commission is way out of line here. And yes, I sit on the Dela Cruz panel even though I am not someone who will directly benefit from future construction projects. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to testify before a legislative committee in support – or opposition – to a law which will impact our working group’s decisions?

  5. Doug Says:

    Huh?

    So you (Andy) and Shapiro don’t want task force members to include the people most interested and knowledgeable? Might as well not have task forces, then.

    I understand the EC to say that you can be on the task force, or you can testify on what the task force produces, but you can’t do both.

  6. David Shapiro Says:

    I agree with your understanding of what the EC is saying. Other state boards subject to the rule seem to have adequate expertise. It’s not like the Building Trades Council and architectural firms don’t have other people to testify besides their reps on the task force.

  7. shaftalley Says:

    special interests


Comments are closed.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: