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Hawaiʻi House creates panel to improve standards of conduct amid corruption scandal

Casey Harlow / HPR

The state House of Representatives on Thursday created a commission that will recommend how to boost the effectiveness of state ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws after two former lawmakers earlier this week pleaded guilty in connection with their acceptance of bribes.

Senators, meanwhile, said they were considering a bill that would prohibit lawmakers from holding fundraisers during the legislative session.

Former state Rep. Ty Cullen and former state Sen. Kalani English pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to honest services wire fraud. They admitted accepting envelopes of cash and other bribes from a business owner in exchange for shaping cesspool legislation while in office.

Both Democrats held powerful positions in their respective chambers. Cullen was vice chairperson of the House Finance Committee. English was Senate majority leader. They are scheduled to be sentenced on July 5.

Kalani English Ty Cullen.png
Hawaiʻi State Legislature
J. Kalani English and Ty Cullen

House members unanimously adopted House Resolution 9 forming the seven-member Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct. The resolution asks the panel to provide an interim report to the House by March 31 and a final report by Dec. 1.

“The strength and stability of our democratic government rely on the public’s trust in the government’s institutions and officers to act with prudence, integrity and good, ethical judgement,” the resolution said.

The public's loss of trust in government institutions poses a threat to orderly, effective government, it said.

The resolution asks the commission to review and assess state laws and rules relating to standards of conduct for public officers and employees. It asks the panel to ensure these laws and rules contain clear standards, enforcement and penalties.

It asks the commission to recommend ways to increase awareness of, and compliance with, these laws and rules.

Retired Judge Daniel R. Foley will serve as the commission’s chairperson. The other members are Robert Harris, executive director of the State Ethics Commission; Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission; Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaiʻi; Barbara Marumoto, a Republican former state representative; Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters of Hawaiʻi; and Florence Nakakuni, former U.S. attorney for Hawaiʻi.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the new fundraising restriction on Tuesday.

The restriction would prohibit any legislator, or person working on behalf of a legislator, from holding a fundraiser during a regular or special session of the Legislature.

“The Senate is committed to taking the necessary steps to rebuild the public’s trust. As part of that effort, we need to reevaluate the influence that money has on our political processes,” said Sen. Karl Rhoads, a Democrat and the chairperson of the judiciary committee.

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