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Hana hou for Kanuha at Ethics Board

Updated: 
September 5, 2015 - 1:30am

Hawaii County Council Chairman Dru Kanuha will be back before the county Board of Ethics on Wednesday, this time on a complaint that he accepted gifts from lobbyists trying to influence official action.

Kanuha accepted $536 worth of airfare from the Honolulu-based Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii on Sept. 11 and Nov. 10, according to the gift disclosure he filed June 30 with the Ethics Board.

One flight was for Kanuha to attend a “policy stakeholder meeting,” and the other for a legislative aide to attend a three-day leadership training session, according to Kanuha’s gift disclosure.

Kanuha’s bill, banning electronic cigarettes anywhere conventional tobacco cigarettes are banned, was introduced Oct. 14 and passed Dec. 17. It was the second bill in as many years that Kanuha sponsored on behalf of the coalition. The other one, in 2013, raised the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21.

The coalition’s three members lobbying the County Council on the bills didn’t register as lobbyists until Dec. 3, 10 and 11.

The coalition was cleared by the county Board of Ethics earlier this year after Executive Director Jessica Yamauchi apologized for what she called an oversight.

Kanuha was also cleared after he apologized for not meeting with constituent Mariner Revell, owner of Irie Hawaii Smoke Shops, who said he wasn’t being treated fairly. The ethics complaint was dismissed before the free flights were revealed in the gift disclosure.

Mariner, who filed the original complaint, also the filed the recent one. He says the gifts prove that the deck was stacked from the beginning.

“This just adds insult to injury,” Mariner told West Hawaii Today Friday. “You may call it a gift, but in my book, I call it bribery.”

The county ethics code forbids county officials from soliciting or accepting travel, entertainment, hospitality or any other promise or gift “under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer’s or employee’s part.”

Gifts to officials, spouses or dependent children have to be reported annually if they add up to more than $100 from a single donor. No gift disclosure is required to be filed if the gifts don’t meet that threshold.

Kanuha defended his acceptance of the flights, saying the bill had “already been formulated” by the time he took the trip.

“At no time was I heavily influenced by the coalition,” Kanuha said Friday. “Countless concerns were brought to me by my Kona constituents about e-cigarettes and the availability of the product to minor children.”

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