Tapestries orange rouge

Long-time lobbyist goes legit

The tale of how media inquiries brought a prominent land development lobbyist to register with the ethics commission

Gary Chun

Ever heard of the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii? Well, you should, because it’s an influential organization whose members include powerful landowners and developers in the state.

The foundation’s executive director, David Arakawa, has been a regular presence during legislative sessions at the State Capitol since he became the foundation’s lead man in 2007. During the 2013 session, Arakawa represented LURF in testimony against a bill that would have imposed a conveyance tax on “an entity with an interest in real property in the State.” But, according to the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, he was not a registered lobbyist at the time, although he did register as one back in 2007-8, but not in subsequent reporting periods.

State law requires that lobbyists spending more than five hours in a month or $750 in a reporting period must register with the ethics commission. By not registering since 2009, LURF circumvented reporting any lobbying activities and expenses to the commission over the past five years.

Until very recently.

On the morning of Friday, March 7 the Independent made a phone inquiry to Arakawa about the absence of his registration as a lobbyist. Arakawa demurred a response to verbal and emailed questions. That afternoon, Arakawa filed a lobbyist registration form to the commission office. The application is so recent that it hasn’t been posted to the Ethics Commission website as of Monday, March 10.

The origin of LURF dates back 35 years. When the foundation filed with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs back in April 1979 as a nonprofit corporation, its stated purpose was for “research, education and lobbying activities relating to land and development in Hawaii.”

That mission was expanded later in 2005, when it was added that LURF would “advocate reasonable and equitable land use laws and regulations that encourage well-planned economic growth and development, while safeguarding Hawaii’s significant natural and cultural resources and public health and safety.” In representing the interests of its members, LURF accomplishes its intentions through the aforementioned “three-pronged program of Research, Information, and Advocacy.”

That purpose was further explained in the aforementioned 2011 IRS filing, in which LURF says that it works “to promote and advance the interests of the development community, particularly in the areas of land use laws and regulations” and “to prevent passage of legislation that imposes unfair requirements and/or fees upon residents, landowners and developers.”

The Land Use Research Foundation comprises powerful individuals intimately involved with shaping real estate use in the islands. According to the 2011 IRS filing, the board includes president Meredith Ching, senior vice-president of government and community relations with Alexander & Baldwin; VPs Giorgio Calderone (regional asset manager at Kamehameha Schools), David Rae and Cameron Nekota (senior VP and development project manager, respectively, at James Campbell Company), Debbie Luning (Gentry Companies), Carleton Ching (VP of community and government relations at Castle & Cooke Hawaii), Nancy Maeda (executive VP at Haseko Development), Ryan Churchill (president & COO at Maui Land & Pineapple Company), and Race Randle (development director at the Howard Hughes Corporation).

In addition to this list, LURF’s website lists other corporate members, including CommonWealth REIT, Grove Farm Properties, Hawaii Reserves Inc., Hawaiian Electric, D.R. Horton Schuler Division, Kapolei Property Development, Ko Olina Community Association, Kyo-Ya Management Company, Loyalty Development Company, Ohana Real Estate Investors, 1250 Oceanside Properties (Hokulia), PAHIO Development, Princeville at Hanalei, Queen Emma Land, W.H. Shipman Ltd., the Robinson Trusts, and Stanford Carr Development.

For the lead staffer of a major state organization to not register with the ethics commission raised concern from many at the Capitol. Representative Della Au Belatti said, “Given that Arakawa has spoken on behalf of LURF, I’m surprised that he’s not registered.”

Les Kondo, executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, suggested that Arakawa may have “slipped through the electronic net.”

Kondo continued:

If David is hitting the threshold of either working more than 5 hours in a given month or being paid more than $750 during any reporting period to be engaged in lobbying activities, he needs to register.

And David Arakawa has done just that, but not without some inquiry.

The Hawaii Independent made several attempts to contact David Arakawa for further comment as of Monday, March 10, but as of this posting, he has not replied.