Thursday, October 8, 2015

Musings: Transparently Opaque

Who really is influencing politics in Hawaii, and how can the public find out?

As I reported on Monday, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety believes that seed companies are unduly influencing the Legislature, and it requested emails from five lawmakers to try and find a smoking gun.

When CFS failed to get the legislative emails — two Representatives said no, because the files are "personal and pre-decisional," and three Senators said the request was “overly broad, vague, and ambiguous”— CFS appealed to the Office of Information Practices. And then it appealed to its mailing list, claiming “our democracy is on the line” and asking folks to sign a petition demanding release of the emails.

Let's set aside the whole GMO debate for a moment and focus solely on the issues of transparency and influence, both of which are favorite rallying points for CFS.

I was particularly struck by this line in the CFS petition appeal (emphasis added):

Only overwhelming public support for transparency will ensure these records are released and our democracy is protected from corporate greed.

So again I ask the question, why is there concern only about the transparency of for-profit corporations, and absolutely none for nonprofit corporations? Does anyone actually believe that only for-profit corporations are greedy, or trying to exercise undue influence on the political process?

In its petition appeal, Center for Food Safety writes (emphasis in original):

HCFS filed the request on behalf of the community to ensure the proper functioning of our democratic process. Reviewing these records is the only way for the public to truly assess the extent to which the pesticide-seed industry exerts pressure and influence on our elected officials and policy-making process.

So why doesn't CFS believe the same holds true for its own records? How are we to assess the proper functioning of our democratic process, and who is influencing it, if advocacy groups like CFS don't have to reveal their funding sources, or who pays them to lobby?

And make no mistake, they do lobby, and they lobby dirty and hard.

Hawaii CFS Director Ashley Lukens is a registered lobbyist for a political advocacy group masquerading as a nonprofit, which allows her to avoid reporting the source of her lobbying funds. In an email to me, Ashley defended her lack of disclosure:

Donor disclosure only applies for lobbying for candidates or ballot initiatives which Center for Food Safety does not do.

Except CFS most definitely does lobby for ballot initiatives. It helped draft Kauai Bill 2491, and as its own website admits: 

CFS has a number of “model” state bills or local initiatives to better protect non-GE farmers, prohibit GE crop planting or require labeling. Through these efforts CFS has successfully assisted in the passage of a number of bills around the country in the past.

And Ashley herself lobbied for the Maui anti-GMO initiative, as first one, and then another, of her own press releases reveal.

CFS does have a separate political action fund, which should be doing the lobbying, not the nonprofit. What do we know about this group? Nothing, aside from the fact that it got IRS approval.

We do know CFS spent $455,000 on the Washington state GMO labeling initiative, and $1.1 million to promote the Oregon labeling initiative. CFS clearly has been trying to influence the legislative process in those states, but it's far less clear where CFS gets its money, other than, as I previously reported, fortunes derived from big oil, big industry, big pharma and big banks.”

And that information was never disclosed by CFS, but painstakingly uncovered by reviewing the tax filings of foundations and trusts.

So even as CFS publicly clamors about the corrupting influence of corporate money, it is itself a tool for corporate money — well-hidden corporate money. 

Now CFS is spreading some of that corporate money around to other Hawaii nonprofits, like the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, which claims to be a grassroots organization, but apparently has been unable to raise even $25,000 from individuals.

As I recently reported, CFS and HAPA are banding with nonprofits — Life of the Land, KAHEA, Hawaii SEED and others — to launch an initiative aimed at getting so-called “progressive” candidates elected. But we'll never know who is bankrolling this very deliberate attempt to influence Island politics, because these groups don't have to disclose their funding.

And what do we know about CFS, which came to Hawaii like gangbusters, and began a very calculated effort to manipulate Island politics and people through disinformation and propaganda campaigns?

Well, it's pretty much the Andrew Kimbrell show — a fact that prompted the Better Business Bureau to ding CFS in its charitable accountability review.

Now maybe you don't mind if Andrew Kimbrell and the scions of the 1% manipulate Hawaii politics under cover of nonprofits.

But surely we can all appreciate the hypocrisy, and rich irony, of Kimbrell and Ashley Lukens claiming they're worried about “saving democracy” even as they intentionally and actively work to undermine it.

To quote Ashley herself in a Hawaii Business interview:

"I'm all about giving people freedom within really clear expectations, with transparency and accountability throughout."

Except, of course, when it comes to Center for Food Safety. Then transparency and accountability are only for the "other guys."


Anonymous said...

Way to spin it Joan. Your handlers are proud.

Joan Conrow said...

I have no "handlers." As for you, "there are none so blind as those who will not see."

Anonymous said...

Err 2491 was not a ballot initiative. And CFS may have consulted on definitions and fine tuning, 2491 was put together through many discussions in people's living rooms and then given form by Hooser and Bynum. I was there in some of those living room conversations and CFS deserves no credit for drafting or initiating 2491.

Joan Conrow said...

10:16 -- Gary Hooser himself told me that CFS was involved in writing Bill 2491 and had vetted the final version before he introduced it.

Anonymous said...

Well, some of the North Shore folks have agreed that all farmers should be covered by the buffer zone laws and testing. That includes organic farmers too. The activists said that it is fair. I'll see it when it happens.

Anonymous said...

We are saying the same thing Joan but you are over emphasizing the role and influence of CFS. Earth Justice also weighed in. As did a lawyer from NHLC (forgot his name). But the core of the initiative was put together step by step by citizens.

Anonymous said...

"So again I ask the question, why is there concern only about the transparency of for-profit corporations, and absolutely none for nonprofit corporations?"

I think this is where you are wrong on this issue. It is not about the accountability of corporations--it is about the transparency and accountability of our Legislature. The open records laws exist for a reason, and I do not like the idea of these legislators trying to get around them. OIP will probably take years to decide the appeal anyway, so I guess it is a moot point. But are you really prepared to defend a legislator's refusal to produce emails with lobbyists? Because that is what this all really seems to be about. (Personally, I also disagree with the pre-decisional exception to the open records laws anyway, but that is a separate issue)

Joan Conrow said...

You're really missing the point, 10:33, and it's this: The transparency and accountability of the Lege extends to its interactions with both for profit and nonprofit lobbying groups. There's actually a lot more transparency right now with how it does interact with for profit groups.

No, I'm not going to defend the Senator's decision to withhold its emails, in part because I haven't seen the actual wording of the request from CFS, so I don't know what it was asking. There are all sorts of exceptions allowed in the open records law.

And 10:25, you're dreaming if you think 2491 was a homegrown brainstorm. Mainland and international anti-GMO groups specifically targeted Hawaii to produce measures like 2491, just like they've done in other key states and nations.

Anonymous said...

What is the "Constitution of the United States of America"? Are not the people kinda free to choose what we eat? Either eat at McDonalds or Burger King or the new Jack in the Box or wherever. "Our" choice. If people want GMO let them have GMO. This Bullying is so Bullshit. American Greed, some lobby with someone else's money. That is all they can do. They might be to (fill in the blank) to work the fields but they can treat others to a good time on not their dime. The "day" has come to Kauai where the island is divided like never before. There are a handful of OLD TIMERS left on this island to tell us we all LOLO. We allow ourselves to be Bullied. We are submissive to ideas that we do not believe in. We let it happen. Where is Kauai today labeled Red or Blue. This is so Bullshit. Nobody mentions Green. Yep three High School colors, Kapaa High School, Kauai High School and Waimea High School. Pre Island School. We did not say no come here and live to disrupt the island. The Big Island had it when they ate...........

Anonymous said...

Everyone on Kauai is scamming the system just like the fire fighters.

If you don't know then ask your broken council member about it or the other councilman that's double dipping and could possibly triple dip if he files for SS disability.

Letters for October 8, 2015

Police overtime is excessive

In Sunday, Oct. 4, the TGI Forum section had an outstanding column be Joselyn Olinares in reporting and documenting a clear abuse in the Department of Police of the County of Kauai’sretirement system. Assuming her numbers are correct, the Kauai Police Department allows this gaming of the retirement system to continue. She sites, as an example, “one officer on Kauaiwith a maximum base salary of $76,710 made more than $79,874 in overtime, and $64,511 in retirement and other pay, to $221,095 in one fiscal year.”

Assuming some level of oversight, the above example must be clearly known by the police chief and by other senior officers. If the County Council was not aware of this gaming of theretirement system before, they certainly are now. If the County Council takes no corrective action, they are complicate in allowing this gaming of the retirement system to continue.

One way to prevent this gaming of the system is to demand, in the next negotiations with the police union, that retirement be based on base salary only, which seems fair. If the union rejectsthis demand, it can be imposed unilaterally by the County Council. The union may then propose to go on strike, which may be illegal for a “safety” officer to do. They could still walk out, asthe air traffic controllers did some years ago, but perhaps be given the same fate — a set number of days to return or they are fired.

While I believe that all of the above is probably true regarding the retirement system, I both respect and honor our Kauai police officers and I feel that they do an outstanding job.

Joe Frisinger, Princeville

Anonymous said...

It is easy to understand that anti-science types want scientists to be transparent and are not transparent themselves because they lack critical thinking skills to see hypocracy.

One would expect better from scientists and assume they would fully support freedom of information. Unfortunately this is not the case. The Cornell Alliance for Science for example is opposed to FOIA

“The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the rest of you but it really pisses me off that narcissistic liars and bullies like Hooser and Lukens and their ilk get to evade taxes and other requirements the rest of us have to comply with, while they denigrate individuals and companies that actually do productive work that benefits our community.

And, not that she's relevant, but what about Nomi Carmona/Babes Against Biotech? How many years did she strut her stuff at the legislature and elsewhere as a lobbyist without ever registering or filing, as required by Hawaii law? So all the lobbyist-bashing she does must not apply to herself because....what?

These folks really believe they are above the law. And they're taking over.

Joan Conrow said...

No, 11:22, the Cornell Alliance for Science is NOT opposed to FOIA. Take a moment and read the link. It is opposed to the selective use of FOIA to bully and intimidate a specific group of scientists and prevent them from doing their work. Big difference.

But thank you for revealing you have no honor, with that blatant attempt at deception.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Ms Lukens! Show us the money!

Anonymous said...

Truth is a stranger Lukens never met.

Anonymous said...

10:25 AM said, "the core of the initiative was put together step by step by citizens."

And that's probably why it got shot down by the courts just like the Super Ferry! good job "citizens".

Lboyd said...

As someone involved with the proposed merger between NextEra and HECO I can only say Joan you are missing all the fun beating up on Ashley. Many of these same people (Life of the Land) are involved mostly opposing the merger. In fact, and this includes Kauais cooperative our current system is on where big oil companies and out of state corporations are looting Hawaii's middle class. And these same ot for(s) are allied with the administration not only in opposing the merger but bringing natural gas to the island. So follow the who benefits method to read the politic. And that is big oil. Without natural gas we will continue to burn oil, nastier both in terms of price and greenhouse gases, for the next 30 years. Furthermore because of the way the 100 percent renewable legislation is written when we reach that magic 100 percent we will still be burning oil for 50 percent of our power generation. And because electric power use will grow we will probably be burning more oil in 2045 than now. So my burning questions, after observing these people in both the GMO conflict are 1) just how stupid are they? 2) just how corrupt are they? Just how stupid do they think the residents of Hawaii are? Just how stupid are the residents of Hawaii? Just a few questions?

Anonymous said...

As the great American Rodney Brown said "Can't we all just get along?"
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
-Wizard of Oz"
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
― Groucho Marx

Anonymous said...

You want to hear nuts? Today I have business on Maui. The Maui News has a story that cane fires cause respiration diseases. Except that the actual data shows that respiratory problems are less on burn days than no burn days? VOG. Yup. Nature. So that proves cane must be abolished in Hawaii. A negative finding versus a Strawman that loses. And the negative turns miraculously into a positive, absolute and positive proof of causation. Junk Science at its best.
A smart logician would conclude cane fires cure VOG.

Anonymous said...

To 7:12 PM:

YES! Pang's cane burning junk glad someone else saw that craziness. Any epidemiologist would laugh his head off reading that "study" and its conclusions. But it sure is perfect timing for the much-needed publicity that Maui anti-agriculture nuts (along with the Kauai and Big Island ones) covet. Will the public read the study and understand that it's pure nonsense? Or will it fuel the fire even more, so that every malaise imaginable from Hana to Lahaina is attributed to the 25-minute early morning burns, during the season.

Lorrin Pang is a real embarrassment to the Department of Health but they can't get rid of him because he and UH's Hector Valenzuela have already set themselves up; they wrote "Henceforth we expect to be protected by whistle-blower rules." So anything goes! We pay their salaries and they use their positions to self-aggrandize and fear-monger.

Soon they will get what they wish for: 36,000 acres of houses and traffic stretching across Central Maui, 800 local family bread-winners out of work, along with the demise of all the associated businesses that HC&S supports.

Something is very wrong in Paradise when all you have to do is allege that farming is causing your runny nose, headache, vertigo, birth defects, cancer, you name it, and, without providing any evidence or realistic suggestions for alternatives, you can drive a legitimate employer out of business.

And these folks say they are all about sustainability.

Anonymous said...

CFS Action Fund, as a 501(c)4 is the entity that is legally allowed to lobby for candidates or legislation. They are also supposed to disclose their 990 filing publicly but ARE allowed to redact donor information.

Anonymous said...

CFS 501(c)3 is very limited in lobbying activity. As loopholes go, she may be working it from both entities. But if she is an employee of the action fund, she is legal. But who knows?

Anonymous said...

Look no further than your leaders.
If they cheat, lie and spout hyperbole. That is the essence of the group.
We get what we deserve.