I just read with great interest Wayne Nishiki’s Viewpoint article on his election disclosure troubles in Thursday’s Maui News. As is now well-known on Maui, ex-Maui County Council member Wayne Nishiki barely defeated former County Planning Department Deputy Director Don Couch in the race for the South Maui seat on the County Council–a race that seemed to hinge on Couch’s taking campaign contributions from land developers and Nishiki’s repeated pledges not to take any such money.
But now Nishiki is in danger of losing a seat he hasn’t even officially taken yet because of the sudden, post-election revelation (broken by my old Maui Time Weekly on Nov. 18) that in 2005, Nishiki received a $100,000 personal loan from mega-developer Everett Dowling (one of my favorite targets back when I edited Maui Time). Had news of this loan–which remains outstanding and involves a man pushing the development of Makena, one of the biggest land issues facing the County Council–it’s likely the election would have turned out very differently. While candidates had to disclose their finances to both the County Clerk’s Office and the County Board of Ethics in early August–so that voters would have enough time to take in the information–Nishiki waited until Oct. 16, not quite three weeks before the election. And even then, he filed it with Ethics Board only.
With calls for both impeachment and recall floating around, Nishiki’s Nov. 27 Maui News Viewpoint is thus a very important look at his strategy. But it’s not encouraging. In the immediate hours after news of the loan broke, Nishiki seemed apologetic and humble for not filing his financial disclosure form outlining the loan in August, when it was due. In fact, in the Nov. 20 Maui News he admitted that, “I did file it late… There’s really no excuse.”
But now, Nishiki says he filed the form on time. “The disclosure form was on file with the county almost three weeks before the election on Nov. 4,” Nishiki wrote in his Nov. 27 Maui News Viewpoint. “Anyone wishing to know the information contained on the form had this nearly three-week period to review the information. This information was not hidden from anyone.”
Nishiki’s explanation ignores two key points. First, as this Nov. 21 Maui News article makes clear, any filing with the County Ethics Board doesn’t become public until reviewed at their next monthly hearing, which in this case, didn’t occur until Nov. 12–more than a week after the election. And secondly, Nishiki also failed to file a copy of his disclosure form with the County Clerk’s Office–had he done that, the form would have become publicly available immediately.
While there is an argument that Couch and his people didn’t fight hard enough in the closing weeks of the election to force Nishiki’s disclosure form, the ultimate responsibility for disclosure fell on Nishiki’s–not his opponent’s–shoulders.
“Despite my shortcomings,” Nishiki writes near the end of his Nov. 27 Viewpoint, “I have never betrayed the public trust as a council member.” These words may be the closest thing to an official apology we get from Nishiki, since both his accepting of Dowling’s loan and his ultimate failure to disclose the loan in a timely manner that would have benefitted the voters took place when he was not a council member.