Limit on agency
Bob Watada needed state
permission to speak
A key state department says Bob Watada, executive director of the semiautonomous Campaign Spending Commission, must get administration permission to testify before the Legislature.
The action by the Department of Accounting and General Services drew immediate criticism from lawmakers, who vowed to come up with legislation to prevent administrators from silencing boards and commissions.
State Comptroller Russ Saito said yesterday that he gave Watada permission to testify against a Lingle campaign spending bill although the department supported it.
However, Saito said he interprets state law to require that he, as the head of DAGS, must testify before the Legislature on campaign-spending matters because the commission is attached to DAGS for administrative purposes.
"I made it clear I was letting him testify against it," Saito said.
Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Judiciary Committee chairwoman, objected to his statement.
"That's absurd, that's stupid, and I can't believe he would try to silence the Campaign Spending Commission," she said.
During a Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Hanabusa said she was "deeply troubled" by Saito's position.
"I have major concerns that a department head would tell someone like the head of the Campaign Spending Commission that he has no right to speak unless he is told to do," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
She said she would introduce legislation to change the law.
"We are going to have to say that no department head is going to silence a board or commission," Hanabusa said.
During the hearing, Watada said he found the edict "chilling to the independence" of the commission.
"I am also troubled by it," he said. "I think the law contemplates that the Campaign Spending Commission be independent," Watada added.
At issue is a state law that says that when a board or commission is attached to a department for administrative purposes, "the head of the department shall represent the board or commission in communications with the governor and with the Legislature."
Saito said he interprets that to mean also testifying before the Legislature.
"I am perplexed as to why it is an issue. ... We are not stopping someone from testifying. What it says is that the head (of the department) represents the board, unless we delegate it," Saito said.
But during yesterday's hearing, Hanabusa said she would request that Watada be allowed to testify without getting permission from the Lingle administration.
"We are specifically asking for your unabridged and unedited position," Hanabusa said.
After the hearing, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, chairwoman of the Health Committee, said she ran into the same problem last year when officials from the Executive Office on Aging said they could not testify.
"Even though they are closest to it, they can't share their perspective on a problem," Chun Oakland said.
"I thought it was unusual, and it is a concern because they can't speak freely," she added.
Saito said he had asked for an opinion from the state attorney general regarding the intent of the law and had received assurances that his interpretation was correct.
The Campaign Spending Commission had been attached to the Lieutenant Governor's Office, but the Legislature moved it to DAGS last year, although its functions or responsibilities were not changed.
Watada and DAGS differed yesterday over a campaign spending bill, Senate Bill 2828, submitted by the Lingle administration, that clarifies how candidates and contributors to political campaigns have to report their contributions.
Watada said the proposal would "create a massive hole in the law that would render contribution limits meaningless."
In prepared testimony, Saito said the bill would "improve public trust."
Jean Aoki, with the League of Women Voters, testified against portions of the bill, saying it would allow a corporation and its partners to give $18,000 to a candidate for governor, while existing law would limit the contribution to a single $6,000 donation.