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Kanuha accepts Tobacco Coalition gifts while sponsoring bill

Updated: 
July 15, 2015 - 1:30am

County Council Chairman Dru Kanuha accepted $536 worth of airfare from unregistered lobbyists while sponsoring a bill benefiting them, according to gift disclosures filed with the county Board of Ethics.

Kanuha was one of four council members filing gift disclosures by the June 30 deadline for the previous 12 months ending June 1.

The flights, for Kanuha and a staff member, were accepted from the Honolulu-based Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii on Sept. 11 and Nov. 10. One was for a “policy stakeholder meeting,” and the other for a three-day leadership training session for a legislative aide, according to Kanuha’s gift disclosure.

His bill, banning e-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 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. The coalition was registered as state lobbyists at the time.

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.

Kanuha also reported $772 paid for by the Hawaii State Association of Counties for a National Association of Counties regional meeting Sept. 29 to Oct. 7 in Montana. He was traveling Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.

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.

Of the other council members filing disclosures, Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille reported $318 in airfare, ground transportation and parking paid by the Hawaii State Bar Association while she participated as a speaker in a land use seminar in Honolulu.

Hamakua Council-woman Valerie Poindexter reported accepting $2,286 from Healthways Inc., a Franklin, Tennessee, company that bills itself as the “largest independent global provider of well-being improvement solutions,” including the Blue Zone communities slated for Hawaii Island. The money was used for travel to a May 5, 2014, Blue Zones project summit in Des Moines, Iowa.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David filed a gift disclosure showing no gifts received. Hilo Councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung didn’t file disclosures. Nor did Puna Councilmen Danny Paleka and Greggor Ilagan.

Paleka and Chung said they generally don’t accept gifts, other than lei or flowers during ceremonies.

“I have a longstanding policy of not accepting gifts,” said Chung, adding he did make an exception for a poster that was presented to him for helping St. Joseph High School with Project Graduation.

“It was worth less than a hundred bucks,” he said, “but to me it was priceless.”

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