Financial disclosures are, by their definition, somewhat tantalizing. They offer an inside glimpse into government officials’ personal finances, including their sources of income, their investments, their properties and the businesses in which they have a position or interest.

It’s interesting, for example, to explore the state Ethics Commission website and discover that state Sen. Laura Thielen owns from $50,000 to $100,000 in Microsoft stock.

These disclosures help to balance the scales of power in our democracy, ensuring that public servants remain just that — servants — and that we know and understand their motivations and conflicts of interest as best we can.

Given the importance of these required reports, then, it’s disappointing when government officials don’t disclose what they should.

Civil Beat’s Anita Hofschneider reported last week that Kauai County Council Chairman Derek Kawakami failed to disclose that he owns more than 14 percent of a company that’s trying to become licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in Hawaii.

Asked about the oversight, Kawakami essentially shrugged his shoulders to Hofschneider, saying “there was nothing to disclose,” since his company, HK Medicinal, did not receive a permit from the Department of Health.

But HK Medicinal is still a functional, active company that is currently fighting in court to overturn the department’s decision. If it wins its appeal, it could end up growing and selling cannabis to thousands of patients on Kauai.

Given the ongoing legal battle, the potential for future business in a somewhat controversial industry and Kawakami’s growing involvement in the firm since the death of his father six months ago, Kawakami’s statement that “there was nothing to disclose” comes off as a total disregard for public accountability.

With all due respect to our local and state officials, it’s not up to them to decide what is and isn’t worthy of disclosure.

This is an important reminder since Wednesday is the deadline for state officials to file their annual financial disclosure statements, and June 30 is the deadline for gifts disclosure statements.

The state Ethics Commission tries to help officials determine what should and shouldn’t be disclosed. It offers regular training sessions, “quick guides” to explain the rules and regulations, and even an on-call lawyer who can answer questions confidentially over the phone or email.

If legislators or state officials have any confusion or doubts about whether something should be disclosed or not, they have easy access to help.

And it’s understandable that officials might need it. The bureaucratic red tape surrounding financial disclosures can be cumbersome. We imagine many officials feel both exposed and annoyed by the process.

But more often than not, it seems like politicians like Kawakami use that frustration as an excuse to gloss over their disclosures, as if no one will actually read or be interested in the details.

In addition to holding public servants accountable, these disclosures — or the lack of them — have a major effect on the public’s trust in government. As the Hawaii state ethics code explains it, all these rules and regulations matter “so that public confidence in public servants will be preserved.”

At the national level, we’ve seen what happens when that confidence erodes — currently, only 20 percent of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing. Local governments have typically fared better, but oversights like Kawakami’s abuse that trust.

If we don’t demand better, our public servants will end up only serving themselves.

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