Campaign spending
watchdog gets OK to testify

The state comptroller reverses
his position on Watada appearing
before the Legislature

Bob Watada, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission, says the state has reversed its position, allowing him to testify before the Legislature without prior permission from Lingle administration officials.

Previously, Watada said he had to get the approval of state Comptroller Russ Saito before testifying before the Legislature.

Watada said Saito told him he wanted all testimony to go through his office. Saito acknowledged last month he told Watada that he would be the one to decide if Watada could testify.

Saito had said that because the semiautonomous Campaign Spending Commission is administratively attached to the Department of Accounting & General Services, which he runs, he would "permit Watada to testify."

Watada said he received a call yesterday from Saito saying "he would not constrain me from speaking on the bill relating to campaign spending."

Attorney General Mark Bennett called last week's incident a "semantic misunderstanding."

Although Saito said he had an attorney general's opinion telling him he could control Watada's testimony, Bennett said yesterday there was no opinion, although his office had sent Saito a letter.

"Our department has not issued any formal, informal or otherwise official opinion to Russ Saito or to any other department or director," Bennett said in a letter to Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Judiciary Committee chairwoman.

Hanabusa had criticized Saito's earlier reasoning, calling it "absurd and stupid."

She is sponsoring legislation to make it clear independent agencies administratively attached to state departments are free to testify before the Legislature and can control their own budgets.

Watada said he had been told by Saito that not only did all testimony to the Legislature have to go through him, but that if lawmakers or staff called the Campaign Spending Commission regarding testimony on legislation, those calls were also to be directed to the Accounting & General Services Department.

The difference of opinion between Watada and Saito centered on a series of campaign spending bills that Watada said were changed by Saito's office after they had been reviewed by officials in the Lingle administration.

Watada said he had submitted several bills to Saito's office, "and they were changed to their likening."

"They asked me to then testify in favor of it, and I said no," Watada said.

Yesterday, Bennett said the attorney general's office has issued opinions since 1980 affirming the independence of agencies attached to state departments but authorized to act independently.

"The head of a department does not have the power to supervise or control the board or commission in the exercise of its functions, duties or powers," Bennett said in a letter written Sunday to Hanabusa.

Bennett said yesterday the attorney general's office has always taken that position.

After meeting with Saito, Bennett said the two "had a meeting of the minds."

"While there may have been some semantic misunderstanding, it is my understanding that Russ's belief was always that on substantive matters the boards and commissions should be able to express their independent viewpoints," Bennett said.


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