HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The former lobbyist who wined and dined Honolulu City Council members in violation of city ethics laws is now the vice chair of a key city panel that could help decide future ethics laws.
The City Charter Commission is an important board of volunteers that decides what proposals go to the voters to change the city's constitution.
Hawaii News Now discovered that volunteer members of that commission are not bound by city ethics laws.
In March 2007, David Rae, a lobbyist for landowner James Campbell Company hosted four Honolulu City Council members at the Oceanaire Restaurant in Washington, D.C. A city Ethics Commission investigation found the meal cost more than $200 per member, amounting to illegal gifts to the council members. That probe resulted in former Councilman Romy Cachola paying $50,000 and former Councilman Nestor Garcia paying $8,100 in ethics fines for accepting free meals and golf from lobbyists in amounts that exceeded city ethics limits.
Rae, who's now retired, is the vice chair of the City Charter Commission that's responsible for deciding what major law and policy changes should be voted on by Honolulu residents, including ethics laws.
"Technically, because of the way the commission has developed, and it's a short-term endeavor, the ethics requirements formally don't apply," said attorney Jesse Souki, the chairman of the city Charter Commission.
Souki said while city ethics laws do not apply to himself and his 12 fellow members, he's confident they would recuse themselves from voting on a proposal if there's a quid-pro-quo ethics situation.
"The kind of issues we'd be dealing with on the Charter Commission are relatively high policy-level type of decisions and it's unlikely that those kind of situations would arise. But if it does, I'm confident that the commissioners will do the right thing," Souki said.
Former Gov. John Waihee, who's another member of the Charter Commission said, "It's not like the rules of ethics don't apply to us. I mean, obviously we know what they are and we all intend to comply with it."
But since the powerful charter panel is full of former and current lobbyists, union officials and people who work for firms with city contracts, Hawaii News Now's political analyst said they have to be careful.
"If they've lobbied the government extensively in the past, if they've had their own ethics or questionable ethics violations in the past, maybe that shapes how they're thinking about these issues but more importantly, it shapes how the public perceives this institution. It undermines the institution's credibility," said Colin Moore, a UH Manoa political science professor and expert in American politics.
One ethics proposal that the Charter Commission might decide to send to voters would require council members who have a conflict of interest on any measure before them to recuse themselves and not vote. Currently, they must disclose the conflict but are allowed to vote.