UPDATED 9:20 a.m. 05/12/14

An increase in grassroots organizing this year around highly controversial issues related to same-sex marriage, development in Kakaako and genetically modified farming have spurred the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to take a closer look at several citizens groups to ensure that they’re complying with the state ethics law.

The commission’s executive director, Les Kondo, says the commission has been reaching out to grassroots organizations in recent months to educate them on the law and its requirements. The law requires organizations that spend more than five hours lobbying in a six-month period to submit a report listing their expenditures and contributions.

Kondo said the ethics commission has heard back from most of the groups that it has contacted and several have filed their disclosure forms.

Update Nomi Carmona, president of Babes Against Biotech, said she received an email from the ethics commission in March, which spurred her to submit the group’s expenditures and contributions report. The group’s disclosure form [pdf] listed $6,000 spent and about $12,500 received from about 90 individuals, including congressional candidate Kathryn Xian. 1

But not all the groups replied as quickly as Babes Against Biotech. Kondo said the commission is still talking with several organizations to figure out if they are required to file reports, while others have said that they don’t meet the $750 threshold.

“There’s a handful that are a little more challenging for us,” said Kondo, who declined to name the groups. “At this point we’re still talking to them.”

Kakaako United is one of the organizations that has yet to submit a disclosure form. The group has been advocating against building taller high-rises in Kakaako before officials address infrastructure problems in the area.

Through online petitions and email blasts, protests in Kakaako and at the State Capitol, and testifying at hearings wearing identical red shirts, the group successfully convinced state lawmakers to pass House Bill 1866 this year, changing the make-up of the Hawaii Community Development Authority as well as imposing other new rules.

Bernard Nunies, vice president of the organization, said that the ethics commission had contacted the group near the end of March about filing a disclosure form, but the organization responded that it’s entirely volunteer-based and has no paid employees.

Update Still, state law requires any organization that spends more than $750 lobbying within six months to reveal its donors and expenses. 1

The organization’s president, Sharon Moriwaki, said in an email that she has discussed the disclosure requirements with the ethics commission and is waiting to hear back from them about whether or not the group must submit a report.

Kakaako United is registered as a nonprofit with the state and is affiliated with the environmental organization, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends.

Another group that hasn’t submitted a disclosure form is Hawaii SEED, an organization advocating against genetically modified farming. Jeri Di Pietro, the group’s president, didn’t return calls requesting comment.

Contact Anita Hofschneider via email at anita@civilbeat.com or on Twitter at @ahofschneider

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