OHA spends millions on trying to create a Native Hawaiian nation
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
From thousands of T-shirts to the establishment of a bureau office in Washington, D.C., the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has spent nearly $7.5 million in the past three years on three separate efforts designed to establish a Hawaiians-only government entity.
OHA spent an additional $2 million in the 2008 budget year that ended June 30 and has budgeted about $2 million for the current year, OHA administrator Clyde Namu'o said last week.
The spending is detailed in reports posted recently on OHA's Web site that represent the fullest public accounting yet on the agency's nation-building expenditures, an area of controversy for some Native Hawaiians.
To put things in perspective, the approximately $2 million that is to be spent on nation-building efforts both this year and next year represents about 5 percent of OHA's annual operating budget.
OHA has come under fire in some quarters for its aggressive efforts lobbying for passage of the Akaka bill, enrolling Hawaiians in the Kau Inoa voter registry, and establishing the Ho'oulu Lahui Aloha Hawaiian Governance Initiative.
Some feel that OHA, as a state agency, is not the right party to be at the head of any effort that would lead to negotiating what reparations are due to Hawaiians as a result of the U.S. role in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian government.
Activist Mililani Trask said OHA should not take the lead because its members now are elected by the entire voting public, not just Hawaiians.
"They're trustees to the public, they're not accountable to Hawaiians," Trask said.
Namu'o, however, said regardless of how OHA trustees are chosen, OHA's mandate is clear that "their basic duty is to the beneficiaries first and foremost."
Trask, a former trustee, said she once supported the Akaka bill but does not anymore. The bill would create a process that could lead to establishment of a federally recognized entity that would work with the federal government. Trask said the bill has been watered down over the past decade to the point where it would have little positive impact on Native Hawaiians.
"It's not a question of whether you support federal recognition, it's a question of whether you support this vehicle," Trask said.
Meanwhile, even some who support the Akaka bill and the other initiatives question whether money has been spent wisely in pushing the efforts.
OHA Trustee Rowena Akana repeatedly has raised questions about how money has been spent on the three initiatives, including the unsuccessful lobbying effort to get the Akaka bill passed.
"I support the Akaka bill, I think we need it because it offers some protections (for Hawaiians-only programs and services)," Akana said. "But what I don't support is continuing to pay lobbyists millions of dollars when they don't produce."
According to records provided by Namu'o's staff, OHA has authorized paying up to $2.46 million to the Washington-based legal and lobbying firm of Patton Boggs LLC from May 2003 through this May. Trustees have approved an additional $450,000 in payments between June 2005 and the present for "legal services" from Zell and Cox, which is headed by Patricia Zell, an attorney who formerly was an aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i. These expenditures are for the strategies that support OHA's goal of assisting, coordinating and enabling the creation of a unified Hawaiian nation.
Akana said since the two firms have not been successful in getting the bill passed, OHA should instead divert its money and other resources toward other strategies.
"What we need to do is to spend more of that money lobbying the non-Hawaiians of this state to support our efforts," she said. People who aren't informed about the Akaka bill are being persuaded by the legislation's opponents to "think we want to be separatists and want to secede and that's nonsense."
Broader support among non-Hawaiians here will translate into support among senators from other states, she said.
Several weeks ago, OHA posted on its Web site a one-page spreadsheet "strategy expenditure reports" providing some detail on its spending in the three categories: Kau Inoa, federal recognition and nation building, for three years from July 2004 through June 2007.
The "nation building reports" were put online "in an effort to reinforce accountability," the Web site said.
Crystal Kua, OHA's communications director, said the nation-building expenditures are consistent with one of the agency's goals, that OHA "shall assist, coordinate and enable the creation of a unified Hawaiian nation."
The federal recognition category, under which OHA spent about $2.17 million over three years, essentially accounts for money spent lobbying for the Akaka bill. Among the expenditures listed are approximately $1.4 million for legal advocacy, about $500,000 for general and legislative advocacy, and $253,000 for mass media education and awareness.
The most money, about $1.12 million, was spent in 2006, the year the Akaka bill went up for a cloture vote before the U.S. Senate, which is the closest the measure has gotten to a full vote on the Senate floor.
The Web site reports OHA spent over the three years nearly $3.88 million on Kau Inoa, OHA's highly publicized drive to register Hawaiians of all ages in order to establish a list of voters that would be eligible for any elections associated with an independent Hawaiian government entity.
To date, OHA has gathered 92,134 signatures, Namu'o said. The goal has been to reach 200,000. While OHA repeatedly has tried to separate the Kau Inoa registry from the Akaka bill, both come under the agency's definition of nation building.
The Web site reports about $1.6 million in general education and mobilization support, $1.47 million in mass media education, and $770,000 for an independent entity to serve as a repository of the registration data base.
The Web site also reports that about $1.45 million was spent on "nation building," the OHA-initiated plan that's similar to the Akaka bill in that it would lead to an independent government entity but does not seek a go-ahead from Congress as a first step.
Among the expenditures for the initiative known as Ho'oulu Lahui Aloha (to raise a beloved nation) are about $657,000 that was spent on general education and mobilization support, and $449,000 on mass media education and awareness.
Namu'o previously has stated that the Ho'oulu Lahui process, from registration to the election of officers, would cost from $7 million to $10 million.
Akana said the three online reports do not provide enough details regarding specific expenditures including travel, grants given to organizations in exchange for their support of the initiatives and the cost of Kau Inoa T-shirts given to those who place their names on the registry.
According to receipts obtained by The Advertiser, OHA was, for instance, charged $73,255.44 for 12,800 T-shirts in July 2006. Those reports also show OHA spent thousands of dollars to set up Kau Inoa booths at functions and to support nonprofits or events in exchange for promotional considerations of Kau Inoa.
Akana said she repeatedly has been rebuffed in her attempts to get specifics and has enlisted the help of the Office of Information Practices to help her.
Akana said she also questions whether the numbers provided account for all expenditures that can be attributed to the effort.
OHA officials said that they do with one exception: The numbers do not include salaries, wages and related expenses paid to OHA employees involved with the efforts.
The numbers also exclude the cost of the recently introduced "Na Oiwi Olino" radio program which, OHA spokeswoman Kua said, focuses on all OHA programs, not just nation-building initiatives.
Included in the totals are the nonpersonnel operating costs of the Washington, D.C., bureau, which is about $400,000 annually, Kua said. Also included are legal and lobbying fees paid not just to Patton Boggs and Zell, but other attorneys who have been involved in the three initiatives, she said.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.