Thursday, September 16, 2010

SMELLS LIKE GREEN SPIRIT

SMELLS LIKE GREEN SPIRIT: Early in a PolySci 100 class the professor presents you with an interesting question. Are those big donors- the special interests we all denigrate- simply giving money to the politician because the candidates have generally shown themselves to support measures that benefit the donor or is the money intended to either influence a vote or reward it?

In recent the case of Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) and their recent successful effort to get out from under a “workforce housing” requirement for their Kukui`ula project in Po`ipu the trail of money and votes of county councilmembers tell a story that makes the latter a distinct possibility.

When A&B got re-zoning of their Kukui`ula project a few years back, then Council Planning Committee Chair JoAnn Yukimura, who as a private citizen had fought the project, did a 180 and helped grease the wheels to change the project from an affordable housing venture to one of luxury homes for off-islanders.

She says that because she didn’t have the votes to actually stop the project she made sure that the conditions and “give backs”- things to benefit the community like housing, roads or schools- were severe and sometimes unique, including the 99 year buy back condition on a sizable chunk of the “affordable” so-called “gap” housing.

So when A&B asked to not just reduce the time line but dump the administration of the program into the county’s lap, Yukimura, now again a private citizen after an unsuccessful run for mayor in ’08, screamed bloody murder.

Needless to say, it was “no soup for you JoAnn” when A&B started handing out the checks.

But not so for former Councilperson Mel Rapozo who was one of those who was predisposed to voting for the original rezoning. Rapozo, also out of office after a mayoral run, has been a vocal populist and activist, testifying and providing documents on many land use issues this year. He’s considered a shoo-in this November in his bid to return to the council.

But on the Kukui`ula housing bill Rapozo remained silent. And if he had any ideas of opposing the bill, right before the it was introduced Rapozo got a $500 check from A&B on April 23, reminding him of their previous support.

Also receiving an April check- this one on the 27th- was first-time candidate Nadine Nakamura who got $300. Nakamura a “planner” by trade is a good investment for A&B since her day job is essentially to help developers like A&B push through their developments. More on her later.

As the bill was being placed on the table A&B decided to spread some “love” around to remind their most likely supporters who was buttering their bread.

Councilperson Dickie Chang- a man who never met a development he didn’t like- was the first and on June 14 he got $500.

At this point it was anyone’s guess how the council vote would shake out. Recent battles over transient vacation rentals and use of ag lands had sharpened the edges of the council factions and Chang, who was in Chair Kaipo Asing’s “gang” would be looking to Asing for a cue and Asing could have done anything here.

There was one more worry for A&B- the man at the top. Would Mayor Bernard Carvalho use his still-in-the-original-packaging veto pen if community outrage got out of hand? Another $1000- check for a total of $3000 this election cycle- served as reminder that A&B had another favor to ask.

That left Councilpersons Derek Kawakami and Jay Furfaro as the swing votes as it started to become clear that Councilmembers Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara- the real leaders of the dissident faction- were lining up to oppose passage of the bill.

Though Furfaro, vice chair of the council and chair of the planning committee, was the outward leader of the dissidents he remained non-committal though much of the back and forth in committee. So did Kawakami until Asing showed his hand by saying that, since the county had now passed affordable housing standards that were much lower than the Kukui`ula numbers it wouldn’t be “fair” to A&B to keep the 99 year buy back.

The bill passed on August 11 with Bynum and Kawahara voting “no”.

And on August 13 Kawakami received his reward- a check for $1000 courtesy of A&B.

And a few weeks later, on September 3- the final day for of the reporting period- A&B cut checks to Furfaro for $1,000.00, Chang for another $500.00 for a total of $1,000.00 and Rapozo, who kept his mouth shut on the bill, for another $500 totaling $1000.

Also receiving a September 3 check was Nakamura who got $700 for a total of $1000.

Missing from the largess was Yukimura who showed up at every committee meeting to reiterate how A&B had agreed to all these give backs and how it was part of a “package” and shouldn’t be changed.

Asing doesn’t take campaign contributions.

Nakamura has been thought by many to be some kind of bright star on the horizon, especially in the controlled growth community. But A&B doesn’t give money to just anyone and they know what many don’t- that the view of someone who is trained and working as a “planner” is one amenable to development.

So were these “bribes”? Certainly not as far as the law is concerned. In order for a campaign contribution to be a bribe there would have to be unimpeachable evidence- a recorded conversation or a written note- explicitly saying that the money was given in exchange for a vote.

But until corporations are banned from giving directly to politicians’ election campaigns these legal bribes will continue to corrupt American politics at every level of government.

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We have “stuff” tomorrow. See ya Monday.

1 comment:

Brad Parsons said...

Nicely covered, Andy, esp. since it doesn't show up in a number of the candidates' campaign finance reports yet.