Saiki said organizations could use the fires as a pretext for raising funds for other purposes.

House Speaker Scott Saiki sent a letter to Hawaii Gov. Josh Green Monday urging him to issue an emergency proclamation to prohibit and criminalize fraudulent fundraising.

Saiki also requested that Attorney General Anne Lopez institute an auditing process to ensure funds raised for Maui wildfire relief go to victims.

The letter warns that “deceptive fundraising practices pose a more immediate and urgent threat to innocent donors and may create a chilling effect on giving.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki said that he wanted donors to wildfire relief to be reassured that contributions are used in line with how they were solicited by charities. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022)

The letter continues, “it is possible that unscrupulous individuals and entities (nonprofit or otherwise) may use the Maui wildfire as a pretext to raise funds to benefit Maui victims when in fact funds will be used for other purposes.”

A Civil Beat report published Monday about fundraising activity by Our Hawaii Action “somewhat verified or was consistent with some of the concerns that I received,” Saiki said.

Saiki said in an interview he had already received anecdotes about questionable fundraising activities by some organizations.

“I’ve been hearing concerns from people in the community, as well as people who are working with nonprofits, that there was a potential for fraud,” he said.

House Speaker Scott Saiki wrote to Gov. Josh Green Monday asking for an emergency proclamation to prohibit fraudulent fundraising.

The governor’s office said in an email it is reviewing the letter, and that the attorney general had previously issued two warnings in August cautioning donors to research charities before giving.

“The bottom line is that I just want donors to be assured that their contributions will be used appropriately, and in line with the representations that were made by the organization that solicited them,” Saiki said.

Saiki said the plan could include any organization raising funds for relief efforts – regardless of their charitable or nonprofit status – and there would likely be wide support for the measure. “I would have to believe that the reputable charitable organizations would support that kind of process because that process would protect everyone.”

He said that if the emergency proclamation was issued it would be enforced similarly to Green’s proclamations against predatory land sales and attorney solicitation following the August wildfires.

There should be a process to verify organizations soliciting funds and an audit system to review the money collected and spent, Saiki said.

“The attorney general would have to devise a plan to identify the types of organizations that could be reviewed,” he said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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