WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee is reviewing allegations that U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele violated ethics rules for using official resources when posting to his campaign social media accounts, including during his failed run for Hawaii governor.

On Friday, the committee released a detailed report from the Office of Congressional Ethics about its investigation of Kahele, which began in May after the congressman came under increased public scrutiny for his proxy voting record and part-time job working as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines.

The OCE report said the agency’s investigation focused on content that Kahele posted to Twitter and Instagram accounts he used throughout the campaign to promote himself and his candidacy.

2022 HNN Debate Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele debates Vicky Cayetano and Josh Green at the Sheraton Hotel.
U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele remains under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for potential misuse of official resources. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

‘Pattern Of Misuse’

According to OCE, Kahele was a frequent offender.

Agency investigators said they found a “pattern of misuse,” which included posting images of himself inside the Capitol, sharing links to official websites and retweeting his office’s press releases. They said they discovered more than 400 images and video postings that violate House rules and Ethics Committee guidance related to the posting and resharing of official imagery and resources.

“The OCE found that the scale of the misuse and the scope of Rep. Kahele’s disregard for creating a bright line separation on social media between campaign purposes and official resources was unique and disproportionate compared to other Members of Congress,” the report states. “Even if Rep. Kahele believed that the accounts were personal in nature, the campaign nature of the social media accounts was unmistakable, necessitating safeguards against misuse.”

The OCE similarly investigated Kahele’s ties to Hawaiian Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association to determine whether he took any actions as a member of Congress that would personally benefit him, his employer or the union.

“Contrary to the allegation presented in the OCE referral, the Congressman has never posted official material in his capacity as a U.S. Representative to his political campaign account.” — Office of U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele

The inquiry looked into a special agreement Kahele had with Hawaiian Airlines and the ALPA that allowed him to work part time for the company while also serving in Congress. Investigators also reviewed hundreds of pieces of legislation and thousands of emails between Kahele’s office and officials from Hawaiian Airlines and the ALPA to see if he afforded either entity special treatment.

Cleared Of Other Wrongdoing

While the investigators found that there was a “lack of safeguards” to prevent conflicts of interest, they did not find any evidence of wrongdoing. As such, the agency recommended to the Ethics Committee that it dismiss the allegations related to Kahele’s side job with Hawaiian Airlines.

This post is an example of one that crossed the ethical line, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Screenshot

The OCE deemed Kahele as uncooperative during its investigation, saying in its report that he displayed a “lack of candor” throughout the inquiry.

For example, the report notes that Kahele did not provide the OCE with all of the materials it requested related to his “problematic social media posts” despite repeated efforts by the agency to work with him and his staff to obtain missing information. During an interview with investigators about potential conflicts of interest, Kahele was described as “evasive” and making “numerous misleading representations.”

The OCE recommended to the committee that it issue a subpoena to Kahele to get the remaining materials it needs to come to a final determination.

In a letter to the Ethics Committee, Kahele wrote that he agreed with the findings related to his outside employment with Hawaiian Airlines.

He said it’s common for members of Congress to talk with outside stakeholders about legislation and said that the information he provided to OCE during its inquiry “demonstrates no official action was taken that affected my personal financial interests, nor was motivated by potential personal financial interests.”

Kahele, however, pushed back against the allegation that he misused official resources for political purposes.

He said that the account he was using to promote his campaign — @kaikahele, which is his handle on both Twitter and Instagram — was a personal account that he described as “distinctly separate” from his official account and his campaign account.

Kahele said he “never” posted official material to his campaign account and provided the committee with a separate handle of @friendsofkaialiikahele, which as of Monday did not appear to even exist on Twitter and had zero posts on Instagram.

The handle U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele provided to the House Ethics Committee doesn’t appear to exist on Twitter. 

Kahele did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.

Instead, his office issued a written statement that reiterated what he told the Ethics Committee, saying that he “strongly disagrees with the accusation that he used official resources in his campaign social media.”

The congressman also took aim at the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative watchdog group that filed an ethics complaint against Kahele in April for his potential conflicts of interest related to his employment with Hawaiian Airlines and his alleged abuse of House proxy voting rules, which allowed him to remain home in the islands to campaign for governor.

It is unclear whether that complaint is what spurred the OCE investigation.

“Contrary to the allegation presented in the OCE referral, the Congressman has never posted official material in his capacity as a U.S. Representative to his political campaign account,” the statement said. “The Congressman is confident that upon review by the House Ethics committee that this baseless complaint by a right wing conservative group that has a history of targeting Democrats will be dismissed.”

At this point, it’s unclear what will happen with the ongoing Ethics Committee investigation. Kahele is leaving office at the end of the year after opting to run for governor in 2022 and the committee does not have jurisdiction over former members of Congress.

Read the OCE report here:

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