Saturday, November 13, 1999

Polls were dubious
use of estate funds

Bullet The issue: The ousted trustees of the Bishop Estate spent tens of thousands of dollars on opinion polls in districts of legislators who had ties to the estate.

Bullet Our view: The activity could be grounds for their permanent removal.

The Bishop Estate controversy has been around more than two years, but new information about the bizarre practices of the ousted trustees is still emerging. In the latest disclosure, the Star-Bulletin's Rick Daysog reports that the former trustees financed opinion polls in districts of legislators who had ties to the estate.

The estate reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars for the research in the 1992, 1994 and 1996 election periods and surveyed opinions from 300 to 350 residents in each district.

The information is important because the state attorney general and the new Bishop Estate trustees are trying to determine whether the polls violated state campaign finance laws barring unreported campaign contributions. None of the legislators reported contributions from the Bishop Estate in their disclosures to the state Campaign Spending Commission.

In addition, the trustees are considering whether the polls violated federal laws prohibiting charitable organizations from playing a significant role in elections. If so, this could result in revocation of the estate's tax-exempt status.

The polls are said to have been conducted to gauge public opinion on water, land-use and leasehold reform issues, but also included several pages of questions about individual candidates. Especially questionable is the fact that they were not conducted on a statewide basis but were limited to districts represented by legislators with ties to the estate.

Ousted trustee Henry Peters said the polls were conducted to test community opinions on issues affecting the Bishop Estate. He said the polls couldn't be considered political contributions because none of the legislators were given the poll results.

Peters explained, "It's good business to know the community's attitudes with respect to issues that have an impact on our operations. I don't think we're any different from any institution in this town." He contended that there was nothing sinister about the polls.

Peters added that Bishop Estate employees in the trust's government affairs department, not the trustees, were in charge of developing the polls. But the trustees can't evade responsibility for the polls, which were apparently done for their benefit and perhaps for the candidates'.

However, Larry Meacham, executive director of the citizens group Common Cause Hawaii, commented that "this goes far beyond looking after the interests of the trust and the education of Hawaiian students." Meacham added, "They obviously played the political game very strongly."

The case of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network may be relevant. The network surrendered its tax-exempt status for two years to settle a dispute with the IRS over its attempts to organize Christians for political campaigns.

The former trustees were temporarily removed in response to a threat from the Internal Revenue Service to terminate the estate's tax-exempt status. The latest disclosure could figure in proceedings for their permanent removal. At a minimum, it is further evidence that they used estate funds in ways that were far removed from their mission of educating Hawaiian children.

Bishop Estate Archive

Japantown, Koreatown
could draw visitors

Bullet The issue: The City Council has passed resolutions designating certain neighborhoods as Japantown and Koreatown.

Bullet Our view: The designations could help attract visitors to the neighborhoods.

HONOLULU has its Chinatown, so why not Japantown and Koreatown? The City Council thinks it's a good idea. The Council passed resolutions designating a Japantown in Moiliili and a Koreatown in the Kapiolani area, bounded by Keeaumoku, Makaloa and Kanunu streets.

The idea has the support of the United Korean Society of Hawaii. Its president, Young Sol, plans to travel to South Korea next year to ask the government for financial support for the project. He said the designation would encourage cultural exchanges with sister cities in Korea and promote trade and investment.

Charles Torigoe, a member of the Moiliili Neighborhood Board, complained that the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, which proposed the Japantown project to Councilman Andy Mirikitani, didn't consult the board. "To try to single out certain races this way makes us very uncomfortable," he said.

The neighborhood board should have been consulted. If residents are in fact uncomfortable with the concept, the idea should be dropped.

However, there seems to be nothing in the proposal that should cause anyone to take offense.

Mirikitani, who introduced the resolutions in the City Council, said no city funds will be needed. Rather, the city will develop partnerships with businesses, churches and schools to promote economic growth through cultural tourism.

Hawaii's rich variety of cultures has considerable untapped potential. This could be a way to enhance Honolulu's appeal to tourists by attracting them to districts they seldom visit.

But merely approving a name isn't enough. Work must be done to bring out the districts' distinctive characteristics and make them attractive to tourists.

If it works, the concept might be extended to Hawaiian and Filipino neighborhoods.

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