Bribery scandal at state Capitol spurs new questions about legislative transparency

Many expressed shock and sorrow as federal prosecutors accused two former state lawmakers of taking money to influence legislation.
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 10:07 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2022 at 11:20 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Political onlookers expressed shock Tuesday as federal prosecutors accused two former state lawmakers of taking money to influence legislation.

Both subsequently confirmed through lawyers that they will plead guilty.

The bribery scandal is also spurring calls for more transparency at the state Capitol.

Former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and Ty Cullen, who resigned Tuesday, are now both out of the Legislature and face years in prison for federal fraud charges.

But Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore believes this will not be the end of this chain of corruption.

“I have a hard time believing that no other elected official had any idea that this sort of thing was going on, rumors spread pretty quickly in institutions like that,” said Moore.

Former Senate Majority Leader Kalani English and state Rep. Ty Cullen took thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for legislative actions, prosecutors say.

“And more of them need to take a stand and probably call out their colleagues.”

Former Prosecutor Randy Lee also thinks more people are involved.

He said the cases could be the tip of the iceberg. “If this was a common thing that was happening at the Legislature, I would be rather worried if I was a senator or representative,” said Lee.

English resigned in April 2021, and claimed his departure was related to long-term COVID symptoms.

Federal prosecutors allege that the owner of an industrial cleaning business paid English more than $18,000 to introduce, and then kill a cesspool removal bill that would benefit his company.

Meanwhile, Cullen allegedly received more than $22,000 to influence a House version of the bill.

“So, it’s really interesting to see whether or not and how strong the legislature will come out this session,” said Lee. “And it’s a good thing that this session is still new and fresh.”

“Why? Perhaps the Legislature should come up with tougher ethical laws and tougher laws that prohibit politicians from accepting these dinners, cash, or any type of gratuities,” he added.

Several lawmakers, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, state Rep. Gene Ward and House Minority Leader Val Okimoto, sent statements on Tuesday condemning the alleged actions.

“People lose faith in their elected leaders, people lose faith in government,” said Sandy Ma, of Common Cause Hawaii. “And so, it is just something that is hard to come back from.”

Added Moore: “This is one of the reasons why we’ve had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation for four years. This is why people don’t want to engage in in our local democracy.”

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