EXCLUSIVE: City Ethics Commission widens illegal gift probe
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In March 2010, James Campbell Company executives hosted six Honolulu City Councilmembers at several upscale restaurants in Denver and Washington, D.C.
The tab came out to nearly $3,600, or an average of about $600 per member -- or three times the legal limit. It's just one of dozens of examples of allegedly excessive benefits showered on councilmembers by the giant landowner over the past eight years.
"Multiple councilmembers were there," said state Rep. Romy Cachola, who then served on the council.
"We attended functions or conferences, they also attended."
The lobbying expenditures were obtained as part of an investigation into Cachola by the city Ethics Commission, which is now widening its probe to look at other councilmembers and former councilmembers.
Cachola, who was fined a record $50,000 by the commission last week, made those records available to show that he was not the only city official receiving illegal gifts.
The law bars city officials from receiving gifts totaling more than $200 during a single fiscal year from a business or single entity if that official's actions has an impact the business's interests. And if the city official votes on matters affecting the donor, he or she is required to disclose a conflict before the vote is conducted.
The records, which Cachola obtained from the Ethics Commission, say that Councilmembers Ikaika Anderson, Todd Apo, Donovan Dela Cruz, Nestor Garcia and Ann Kobayashi attended the March 2010 dinners. The meals were at the Palm Restaurant in Denver, the Arcadiana restaurant in Washington and another unnamed D.C. beltway eatery. Only Anderson and Kobayashi remain on the council today.
That same year, the council approved a $60 million land deal in which the Campbell Company gave 51-acres of land for the city's rail project in exchange for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements in Kapolei. And Cachola alleges that the councilmembers didn't declare they had a conflict when they voted on the measure.
But several former and current council members say the $600 per member figure doesn't reflect their actual bills. Instead, they are the totals paid by the Campbell lobbyists, split six ways. They say they never saw a bill but believe it was below the $200 limit since they do not drink alcohol and didn't order anything special.
Cachola, one said, ordered expensive bottles of wine for himself, which skewed the overall numbers.
Kobayashi, who is anti-rail, added that she was unaware that any of her meals exceeded the legal limit and had she known, she would have paid her own way.
"I don't know where the expenses come from. I don't drink very much. One glass of wine is about it from me," said Kobayashi.
We reached out to Rae but he didn't return our calls.
Charles Totto, the commission's executive director, said he's still investigating and if he confirms the free meals and their cost, he'll check to see if councilmembers disclosed the illegal gifts, which is rare.
"If you disclose that you took a gift over $200, then you're also disclosing that you did something unlawful," Totto said.
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