Lobbyists and public relations consultants were paid more than $34,000 in the fight over whether it should be legal to give life-ending medication to lucid, terminally ill adults who request it, according to records from the state Ethics Commission.

The Our Care, Our Choice Act was signed into law by Gov. David Ige on April 5, a week after it was passed by the Legislature and a month before the end of session. It’s unusual for bills to be codified so quickly.

Advocates on both sides of the issue were paid thousands of dollars, according to expenditure statements filed with the State Ethics Commission.

John Radcliffe, a well-known lobbyist who is terminally ill with cancer, speaks in favor of the medical aid in dying bill at the Legislature. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Even though opposition groups didn’t get their way, they far outspent supporters.

The Roman Catholic Church of Hawaii, which opposed the bill, spent more than $20,000 on lobbyists — twice the amount spent by Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group in support of medical aid in dying. The latter spent $10,000.

Thursday marked the filing deadline for expenditure information for the reporting period that spanned March and April. Data has not yet been uploaded to the state’s site for those who filed last-minute reports.

Hawaii Death with Dignity, a group that has advocated for such legislation in the past, did not have any expenditure reports for 2018 as of Thursday evening.

Strategic Communication Solutions, a public relations firm, earned far more than any other lobbyist or group advocating for or against medical aid in dying. The company received $20,000 from the church.

Nathan Hokama, head of the company, wasn’t registered as a lobbyist. He told Civil Beat that his role was instead to provide communications services and the church mistakenly classified his services as lobbying.

“I’m not a lobbyist, I don’t do lobbying,” Hokama said.

‘No Aloha in Suicide’ in opposition to HB2739 hearing at the Capitol Auditorium.
A testifier opposed the medical aid in dying bill at a February hearing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Rev. Gary Secor, who submitted the form on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, did not reply to a request for comment Thursday.

The only other lobbyist listed on the church’s form was Walter Yoshimitsu, who received $500.

Yoshimitsu wrote in an email that Strategic Communication Solutions was hired for communications and the church plans to resubmit its report.

Dan Gluck, head of the state Ethics Commission, pointed to the state law that defines lobbying as “communicating directly or through an agent, or soliciting others to communicate, with any official in the legislative or executive branch, for the purpose of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action or a ballot issue.”

Public relations services “for the purpose of lobbying” should be marked separately on the form, Gluck said. He noted that new rules are being drafted to clarify, amongst other items, what constitutes lobbying. The public is encouraged to comment on those and other draft rules that can be found here.

The church also spent about $1,300 on preparing and distributing lobbying materials during the March and April reporting period, when it began to seem more likely that the medical aid in dying bill would pass.

Hawaii Family Forum, which also opposed medical aid in dying, spent $2,400 on lobbying from January to April.

The second-biggest check went to BT Consulting, headed by well-known lobbyist Bob Toyofuku. Toyofuku’s consulting firm received $4,800 from Compassion and Choices.

Capitol Consultants of Hawaii, the state’s largest lobbying firm, was one of the few other lobbyists that received more than $1,000 from Compassion and Choices.

Click here to search for expenditure reports of lobbying groups and other organizations. Expenditure reports submitted by individual lobbyists can be found here.

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