Longtime local lobbyist David Arakawa hasn’t registered to lobby at the city despite advocating against recent legislative proposals to reshape Honolulu’s parking and urban-planning policies.
Arakawa is the executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation, a group that lobbies on behalf of landowners and developers in Hawaii. Marti Townsend, who leads the Hawaii chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club, filed a complaint with the city ethics commission Friday highlighting Arakawa’s failure to register to lobby.
Lawmakers have recently softened language in the measure to ease developers’ concerns. Specifically, developers have pushed back against the proposed mandatory “unbundling” of future parking spaces from residential units, as well as proposed distances for building setbacks.
Arakawa didn’t respond to a voicemail and email from Civil Beat on Monday seeking comment for this story.
No Penalties For Failure To File
Jan Yamane, executive director of the Honolulu Ethics Commission, said she can’t comment on Townsend’s complaint due to confidentiality requirements. Typically, however, she said the commission investigates complaints and sends cease and desist letters to lobbyists who are out of compliance.
Achieving compliance can be difficult in part because the city ethics commission doesn’t have much power to force people to follow the rules.
Yamane said the commission has the power to suspend or revoke lobbyist registrations for people who violate the rules. But there are no fines for people who fail to register to lobby. She doesn’t know of any lobbyists who have had their registration revoked or suspended.
But that hasn’t happened. Yamane said Monday that the reason is lack of resources.
“We’ve been so cash-strapped that it’s very difficult to make any kinds of changes because we simply don’t have the capacity to do it,” she said.
Over the past three years, Yamane has worked to get ethics trainings online and to get funding for additional staff. She said the commission has only two attorneys — and no investigators — working along with support staff. Yamane is trying to hire an investigator and is waiting for approval to hire additional budgeted positions.
The requirement to notarize forms has been extra tough for lobbyists during the pandemic, where there are fewer notaries available, Yamane said.
Yamane said the commission has set up a permitted interaction group to analyze potential changes to the lobbying rules.
Townsend says the lack of enforcement power is disappointing.
“There’s no point in having laws on the books if we’re not going to put any teeth behind them,” she said. “This contributes to the overall eroding of public faith in government.”
Civil Beat reporter Marcel Honoré contributed to this story.
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