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HOOSER: Money buys influence

“Prior to appearing before the County Council or administrative agency, a lobbyist shall orally disclose his or her status as a lobbyist and the person on whose behalf the lobbyist is appearing.” Kaua‘i County Ordinance 999.

While it’s an all too common occurrence for a locally well-connected attorney (or other influential insider) to sit at the microphone testifying to commissioner’s and council member’s clearly advocating on behalf of and attempting to convince them of a developers good intent, never have I heard them say out-loud, “I am a lobbyist representing XYZ developer.”

Nor have I heard them say, “I’m here today because these guys are paying me good money to come here to say nice things about them and their project. I’ve known you commissioner’s and council member’s for a long time. You know I would not say this if I didn’t really mean it. Please pass whatever it is they’re asking for.”

“Lobbyist” means any individual who for pay or other consideration engages in lobbying on behalf of another person in excess of five (5) hours in any month or any reporting period … or spends more than $750 lobbying during any reporting period.

“Lobbying” means communicating, directly or through an agent, or soliciting other to communicate, with a state of county officer or employee for the purpose of attempting to influence any legislative action or administrative action.

Read the ordinance: https://www.kauai.gov/files/assets/public/v/1/county-council/documents/lobbyist-registration/ordinance_no._999.pdf.

To be clear, attorneys who limit their actions to “advise their clients on the construction or impact of the legislative or administrative action” may not meet the definition of lobbyist.

However, those who sit at the table and testify in front of commissioners and council member’s ”For the purpose of attempting to influence any legislative action or administrative action” and spend more than 5 hours in any month — are de facto paid lobbyists and required to file and disclose.

The threshold is five hours per month and a single meeting of the Kaua‘i Planning Commission or Kaua‘i County Council will sometimes exceed that, not to mention the “meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting” and the phone calls and emails between the meeting.

Read for yourself the list of who has and who has not filed as a Kaua‘i County lobbyist. https://www.kauai.gov/Government/Council/Lobbyist-Registration

Remember, everyone who testifies on any issue is “lobbying” but not everyone who participates in lobbying is a “lobbyist”.

It’s only those individuals who are paid to influence or who spend over a certain amount for the purpose of influencing who are by definition lobbyist’s.

These people need to register, file reports and disclose that they are a lobbyist orally prior to offering testimony.

The Kaua‘i lobbyist law known as ordinance 999, was originally introduced by yours truly, as Bill 2164. It was passed by a unanimous vote of the full council on March 23, 2016 and signed into law by thenMayor Bernard Carvalho on March 30, 2016.

The county clerk is responsible for administering Ordinance 999 and enforcement is via the Kaua‘i Ethics Commission.

My hope is that Ordinance 999 might be enforced.

My further hope is that it would be amended in the future to require anyone testifying, to disclose if they receive or will receive any direct financial benefit from the entity or related entities seeking approval/disapproval before that government body.

This language would ensure public disclosure by employees, subcontractors, vendors, and others who have a direct financial benefit but who may not “lobby” the five hours per month required for lobbyist disclosure.

The people in the audience, the people responsible for casting the ultimate vote, and the public as a whole need to know who is there in the room and online, who is offering testimony motivated by their communities best interest, and who is there because of the money.

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Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island

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