BY JIM DOOLEY – Like Frankenstein, the bill-with-a-new-brain only lived briefly.
The bill began life as a measure to change management of the Aloha Tower Market Place and had nothing to do with gambling or casinos. But in the eleventh hour of the legislative session attempts were made to transform the measure into a proposal that legalized gambling in the Islands.
In a conference committee meeting this afternoon, Rep. Joseph Souki, D-8th (Wailuku), said that House leadership opposed the casino idea and the measure was dead for this session of the Legislature.
“I’m quite disappointed,” Souki said. “We do need revenues in the state of Hawaii and the quality of life as we know it will continue to deteriorate.”
The last-minute push for gambling was propelled by radio advertising, social media and thousands of “robo-call” phone messages financed by a group called Citizens for a Better Way.
The group is headed by local businesswoman Liz Watanabe, former owner of a downtown nightspot called the O Lounge.
How much the group has spent on the pro-gambling campaign and the source of that money are unknown. Radcliffe, who works with the group, said the amount was “surprisingly little.”
According to online records of the state Ethics Commission, the group has not registered with the state Ethics Commission as a lobbyist or as an organization that employs a lobbyist,
But Radcliffe said Watanabe told him she registered with the commission about three weeks ago.
“Something got screwed up,” Radcliffe said.
Under the law, registration must occur within five days of the commencement of lobbying. Disclosure of lobbying activities, including amounts spent, must be made three times a year. The next disclosure deadline, covering March 1 to April 30 period, is May 31.
Several sources said they believed a Michigan firm, Marketing Resource Group, which has lobbied here in the past for legalized gambling, was affiliated with Citizens for A Better Way.
But Radcliffe, who also represents Marketing Resource Group here, said the two groups are only connected to each other through him.
Marketing Resource Group provided no money to Citizens for a Better Way, said Radcliffe.
Tom Shields, an executive with the Michigan firm, said by phone today his firm has employed Radcliffe for the past eight years “to promote the idea of a casino in Waikiki” but has no connection to Citizens For A Better Way.
“I have clients that are interested in investing in Hawaii gaming if the people decide that they want to legalize it,” Shields said.
Radcliffe was paid some $3,800 for his work from January through March of this year by Marketing Resource Group, according to Ethics Commission filings.
“He’s been our eyes and ears out there to just sort of keep track of things for us,” said Shields.
Today minority Republicans in the state House of Representatives castigated the casino bill.
“We strongly object to a clumsy attempt to hi-jack a bill relating to the Aloha Tower Development Corporation and turn it into a bill to establish a casino in Waikiki,” Republican Policy Leader Rep. Barbara Marumoto said.
Marumoto and her colleagues asserted that using a bill for a purpose that does not match its title violated the state Constitution and introducing it in the closing days of the Legislative session violated the rules of the House.
“Efforts by pro-gambling lobbyists have increased in the last few days. Constituents have reported receiving automated phone calls telling them they need to choose between gambling and increased taxes,” the Republicans said in a press release.
“This is simply not true and clearly is a desperate effort by gambling interests to push through a self-serving proposal in the final hours of the Legislature,” said House Republican Leader Gene Ward.
A member of the House Democratic majority, Rep. Chris Lee, 51st (Lanikai, Waimanalo) said some of his constituents were confused by the robo call messages and believed he was responsible for them.
Instead, the calls advised Lee’s constituents to contact his office to express support for the gambling bill.
Lee said his office will mail clarifications to voters in the next few days.
“This automated call left many people believing that it was me who was calling.
However, I have absolutely nothing to do with this,” Lee’s mailer says.
“In fact, I oppose this proposal to legalize casino gambling in Hawaii because it may hurt our local economy more than help it,” Lee’s message says.
Radcliffe said the casino proposal will rise again.
“This Legislature has done precious little to solve the fiscal problems of the state,” he said.