The Office of Hawaiian Affairs spent $3,192,547 on lobbyists for the Akaka bill — legislation that has failed to pass since it was first introduced 10 years ago.

OHA revealed the figure, which covers fiscal years 2003 through 2010, in a letter earlier this month to the chairmen of the Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Hawaii House Finance Committee.

Republican state Sen. Sam Slom had asked OHA for the lobbying amount at a budget briefing at the state Capitol Jan. 6.

The legislation, also known as the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Bill, hasn’t had enough support to pass during the 10 years since its first introduction by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and then U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, both Democrats, have vowed to continue fighting for the legislation, even though the U.S. House is now controlled by Republicans and the U.S. Senate has seen its Democrat majority shrink.

Clyde Namuo, OHA’s CEO, future spending on the Akaka bill is dependent on the OHA Board of Trustees approval of “a revised strategy currently being developed” by the OHA administration.

When asked this week where OHA’s lobbying money was spent — for example, on Washington, D.C., law firms — Namuo said via e-mail, “The expenditures covered a span of seven years and went towards important activities including consulting services, research, monitoring legislation that could impact Native Hawaiians, and educating and informing members of Congress about this important issue.”

News reports, including this one in 2006 by The Honolulu Advertiser, said OHA at the time had paid $1.8 million on Akaka bill lobbying to the D.C. lobbying firm Patton Boggs and $300,000 with another D.C. firm, Zell & Cox.

Civil Beat asked Namuo if he felt the money was well spent, given the bill’s history.

“The money was well spent when we consider what is at stake if federal recognition is not ultimately achieved,” he replied. “We believe that it is still worth pursuing the passage of some type of legislation which would provide recognition to Native Hawaiians and protection of Native Hawaiian programs.” 

Sen. Slom told Civil Beat said he was not satisfied with OHA’s lobbying figure “and Hawaii taxpayers should not be satisfied, either.”

“I don’t think that’s the entire amount,” Slom said of the $3.2 million. “When their budget comes up I will pursue this further.”

OHA, a state agency created in the 1978 Hawaii Constitutional Convention, “has functioned operationally as both a government agency with a strong degree of autonomy, and as a trust,” according to information available on its website.

OHA’s mission is to protect Hawaii’s people and environmental resources and OHA’s assets “toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally.”

OHA is funded through a mix of trust funds earmarked for Hawaiians of at least 50 percent blood quantum and funds provided annually by the state Legislature.

OHA has requested $4.8 million from the Legislature for its biennium budget. The office is also currently working with lawmakers to secure $200 million in past-due payments from ceded-land revenues.

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