View Point
Friday, October 22, 1999

By Sam Slom

Meacham is off base
with criticism

THE wonderful thing about the First Amendment is that it gives everyone the constitutional right to say or write whatever they choose, even untruths.

Common Cause Hawaii executive director Larry Meacham's Oct. 18 View Point column, "Ethics panel needs teeth in its bite," is a case in point.

Meacham is angry because two complaints he filed with the state Ethics Commission a year ago, against Sen. Joe Tanaka and me, did not result in actions he wanted.

He attacks me and faults the commission, concluding that it "should criticize and penalize all those who violate the ethics law instead of letting them off."

I wasn't "let off" of anything.

The "informal advisory opinion" issued by the Ethics Commission in August 1999 -- 10 months after the 1998 election and Meacham's complaint -- says clearly in its opinion that I "may have violated the ethics law with a news release sent out last year."

The key word was "may." The commission members were NOT sure. No law was broken, which was why it was an informal advisory only.

The public should know that I fully cooperated with the Ethics Commission, responded with two extensive and documented letters, and categorically denied all allegations.

In February of this year, I voluntarily appeared at a commission hearing, which it wanted to keep private although I urged the meeting be open to the public.

Later, I requested a formal, legal, public hearing in which to question -- under oath -- complainants Meacham and Governor Cayetano, who had been asked for comments after Meacham's complaint was received. My request was denied.

Last month, I freely volunteered information, documents and details about this incident to reporters even though the Ethics Commission refused such media requests. I also renewed my hearing request.

What was the original and alleged wrongdoing before the election? I had sent out a press release, welcoming the governor to my senatorial district, upon learning that he had purchased a $1 million house lot in Waialae Iki.

The release was composed by me, typed and faxed by me, from my private business office in October 1998. No state resource or time was used, no personnel or state offices utilized in any way. No financial, political or other benefit was sought by or accrued to me.

Meacham further says the release "implied both that Governor Cayetano had obtained the money for the lot illegally and that his moving into the district would lower property values." There was never a word said or implied that the money was obtained illegally.

LIKEWISE, just the opposite was said in regard to others who had indicated that property values might decline -- not because of race (look at who lives in the area now) but because of past political actions that resulted in lowered property values.

Meacham wants your readers to believe that this release was a "smear" against Cayetano. That word was overused during the '98 campaign. But there was no smear; just the fact of a real estate purchase and comments on the economy.

One might question the timing and motive of Meacham's current attack on me. His personal support of Cayetano has remained constant, and that's fine. But the '98 election is over. Meacham didn't make a convincing case before the commission and he doesn't make one now.

Common Cause, under the leadership of the late Desmond Byrne, was known for its absolute fairness and impartiality. It appears that it is being led in a different direction.

Perhaps Meacham should run for office himself to bring about the changes he advocates, and to learn how ethics and spending complaints can be used against elected officials for espousing unpopular or minority views.

Sam Slom is a Republican state senators representing the 8th district.

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