WASHINGTON — A conservative group that describes itself as a government watchdog has filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele over potential conflicts of interest related to his employment with Hawaiian Airlines and his alleged abuse of House proxy voting rules.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, lodged the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday.

FACT has a history of targeting Democrats over potential ethics and campaign spending violations, and has come under scrutiny for the lack of transparency surrounding its donors. The organization was once run by Matthew Whitaker, whose 2018 appointment as acting attorney general by then-President Donald Trump raised its own legal and ethical concerns.

Representative Kai Kahele speaks during a Red Hill Fuel tank rally held at the Capitol.
U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, seen here at a Red Hill rally at the state capitol, has not been in Washington for much of the past four months. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

​​The foundation’s request for an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics comes after Civil Beat reported last week that Kahele had asked his colleagues to cast votes on his behalf at least 120 times since the beginning of the year while he stayed home in the islands and laid the foundation for a possible run for governor.

The story gained national attention, and led to even more questions about Kahele’s work for Hawaiian Airlines, for which he continues to fly part time after the company and his union, the Air Line Pilots Association, crafted a special leave of absence provision in the pilot’s contract that appears to benefit only him.

The FACT complaint homed in on Kahele’s work on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee —  he serves on the aviation subcommittee — and several pieces of legislation he co-sponsored that Hawaiian Airlines lobbied to support. Kahele’s wife also works for Hawaiian Airlines.

“The employment relationship is one that would, at a minimum, give the appearance the Member was unable to act impartially or that the employer has special access to the Member,” the complaint states. “The conflict of interest is clear.”

The organization also called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to probe Kahele’s use of proxy voting, which was allowed starting in May 2020 so that members could avoid spreading the deadly Covid-19 virus.

Kahele’s office has defended his time away from Washington, saying that he lives in a multi-generational household and is worried about new coronavirus variants. In numerous letters filed with the House Clerk’s Office, Kahele wrote essentially the same thing, saying that he needed to vote remotely “due to the ongoing public health emergency.”

A review of his social media accounts, however, told a different story.

According to the Foundation’s complaint, on days that Kahele was having his colleagues cast votes for him on the House floor he posted numerous photos of himself out in the islands at various social and political gatherings.

The complaint includes screenshots from Kahele’s own Twitter account as proof.

“For each of his 120 proxy votes, Kahele stated he was ‘unable to physically attend’ House proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the complaint states.

“However, it clearly appears that was not the reason Kahele did not vote in person for approximately three months. Rather, seemingly it was because he was attending other public and political events during this time.”

Kahele’s office did not respond to a Civil Beat request for comment Tuesday evening.

Read the complaint here:

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author