There is so much for which to be thankful, despite the harrowing year. At Civil Beat, we have never been more thankful for readers like you. As we head into the final stretch of 2020, we’re asking you to support our local, nonprofit newsroom. In exchange for your support, we’re thrilled to offer you new Civil Beat swag!
Civil Beat has raised $10,000 towards our $200,000 goal!
Ever wonder which Hawaii lawmaker made the most money last year — and how?
What about the financial interests of board members who determine everything from education policy to state land use?
Or learning what companies the governor and his department heads have a financial stake in?
Searching the financial disclosure records for hundreds of Hawaii officials has never been for the faint-hearted. The Hawaii State Ethics Commission maintains thousands of documents but a civic-minded citizen who wanted to know, for instance, which lawmakers own stock in Apple would have to undertake a tedious research project.
But checking up on your elected and appointed officials, including many members of important boards and commissions, just got a lot easier.
We’ve created a database that lets users easily explore hundreds of financial disclosure statements filed by top state officials and candidates for elected office.
Civil Beat has created a searchable database for the financial disclosure statements filed by state officials since 2014. Handwritten records like this one filed by Sen. John Green won’t be a problem anymore.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Our interest in government transparency is no secret — especially when it comes to financial disclosure records. Civil Beat recently filed suit to gain access to the records of members of 15 state boards who are now required to disclose their financial interests. A judge ruled in our favor but the state has appealed and the case has been bumped to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
But there’s a big difference between policy and practice when it comes to the records. Just because financial disclosures are adjudicated to be public doesn’t mean the public can easily access them. That’s why we created this database.
The Ethics Commission collects the disclosure statements each year from more than 1,900 state employees and then posts those that must be made public on its website. Not all are required to be made publicly available, including most lower-ranking state employees and members of less significant boards.
But disclosures for all 76 lawmakers, the governor, lieutenant governor, department heads and members of many top state boards and commissions are public.
While the commission posts those filings online, it’s tough to search the website and cross-reference people, companies or other information included in the reports.
The disclosures identify in broad monetary ranges how much a person earns each year and the source of that income, property and business interests, stocks, memberships on outside boards or trusts and creditors. The forms include the same info for their spouse, if applicable.
Our database lets you figure out in seconds what would otherwise take hours of searching on the state website.
Here’s an example: On our site it takes only a single mouse click to find out which public officials had income of more than $1 million last year. Up pops three names: Don Horner, the chair of the Board of Education; Kathryn Matayoshi, the superintendent of the Department of Education; and Russell Ruderman, a state senator.
Click on the name and you get a page that breaks down their disclosure statement.
Horner received the bulk of his income last year from First Hawaiian Bank but also made $25,000 to $50,000 from Haleakala Ranch Company. His disclosure also shows he has $550,000 to $850,000 worth of stock between Bank of America and BNP Paribas. And he sits on seven state boards (plus the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) and owns two pieces of real estate on Oahu (not counting his personal residence) that are each valued at more than $1 million.
Matayoshi’s disclosure shows she made between $150,000 and $250,000 last year as superintendent. The reason she was included in the results for those who earned over $1 million is because her husband, a Honolulu lawyer, made more than $1 million last year providing legal services, according to her original filing, which is accessible by clicking the link to it under her name.
Ruderman made the vast majority of his money from Island Naturals, a small chain of health-food markets he owns on the Big Island. He also earned $57,852 in 2014 as a senator.
With this new database tool, it’s also possible to manipulate the data in more complex ways by adding additional search filters.
How about that Apple search? Let’s check the Senate in particular. Click “State Senate” under the “Agency/Office/Board” filter and “Apple” under the “Affiliations” filter.
You’ll see that Sens. Sam Slom and Les Ihara have a stake in Apple. Ihara and his wife have combined stock valued between $525,000 and $800,000. Slom reported his financial interest in Apple as 80 shares, which would be $10,109 as of Monday.
Civil Beat has created a database for the financial disclosure statements filed by state officials since 2014. This is a screenshot of what the database looks like. Access it here.
Our database also differs from the Ethics Commission’s in another key way — we’ll keep the records on file even after someone leaves office.
As soon as an official leaves the job, the commission pulls that disclosure report from its website. The record remains public information but you have to request the documents from the commission, which can take time and potentially cost money if the agency charges for the search process and copies.
So you won’t see someone like Bruce Coppa, who was former Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff, on the commission’s website right now but you will on ours. Coppa left public service last year after Gov. David Ige was elected. Coppa’s now a lobbyist; our database gives you a way to track his financial interests over time whether he is a public official or trying to influence one.
Our database includes the 2014 filings and we’re already adding the 2015 reports, which some lawmakers have filed ahead of the June 1 deadline. There are two entries in our database for Ruderman, for example.
Another key difference between our database and the state’s is its searchability. The commission just uploads the PDFs, so you can’t do a keyword search of what’s contained in the records.
It’s an issue the commission itself is concerned about. Ethics Chair Ed Broglio said at the commission’s March 18 meeting that it would be a “huge advantage” if the material was searchable.
He asked the commission’s executive director, Les Kondo, to find out if it would be possible since the state is looking to spend $130,000 upgrading the online filing system. The House Finance Committee is set to hear the bill appropriating the funding Thursday.
Kondo said his understanding is the new system would help people file their reports online with greater ease and fewer technological errors. But it would still just capture an image of the financial disclosures and not be searchable.
“In the future, I want to be able to put in ‘Chevron’ and see who else owns stock in it,” Broglio said.
Well, commissioner, now you can — in our database. The answer is Rep. Richard Creagan, who reported owning $150,000 to $250,000 in stock with the energy/oil company.
Even our database is not perfect. We’re sure you’ll find glitches and problems. Please let us know how you’re making use of it and tell us about any bugs we need to fix.