Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty


The Price of Failure by maliab

By Malia Hill

Over at Hawaii Reporter, a new report has revealed that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has spent $3.44 million since 1999 on its (ultimately failed) lobbying efforts in support of the Akaka Bill. And this doesn’t include the approximately $2 million OHA spent to operate a Washington, DC office or any other expenses (such as travel) spent in pursuance of OHA’s pro-Akaka effort.

Of course, OHA has never been particularly forthcoming about that portion of its spending that it would prefer to remain obscure.  So we know that–according to its own Annual Report–in fiscal year 2009, OHA spent $13,686,447 in its Native Hawaiian granting efforts in fiscal year 2009–including $454,456 for health, $1,056,578 on economic development, $354,456 on “nation building”, and $1,866,993 for “native rights, land, and culture.”

And thanks to the data available on HawaiiSunshine.org, we know that in FY2009, OHA spent $1,017,632.90 on Personnel Services, $1, 411,058.63 on the vague and mysterious “Services on a Fee Basis”, and a head-scratching $46.94 for “Telephone.”

So who benefited from the OHA lobbying effort?  Considering that the legislation–despite a brief flurry of activity in the Democratic Congress–eventually went nowhere, the most obvious beneficiaries of OHAs efforts was not Native Hawaiians or Hawaii’s taxpayers, but rather the Washington, DC office of Patton Boggs–a large law firm specializing in (amongst other things) lobbying.  And one of whose lobbyists was (and its hard to think that this is a coincidence) former Governor John Waihee.

The truly interesting thing about OHA’s rather significant lobbying expenditures is that there is no clear consensus of opinion on the advisability of the Akaka Bill, either among the Hawaiian public at large, or even among Native Hawaiians, a group of whom even attempted to sue OHA for straying too far from its mission in its pro-Akaka activities.  Although the benefits of the Akaka Bill can be debated by both sides, the one organization that unquestionable benefits from its passage (in terms of political power and financial considerations) is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  So, in essence, the Hawaiian taxpayers have been paying for a department of the state government to lobby for more power and money for itself in Washington.  And unsuccessfully too.  Along with $20,000 hammers and bridges to nowhere, that may be the very definition of government waste.

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