A congressman’s sponsorship of bills that affect the aviation industry — while pulling income from the largest commercial flight operator in Hawaii, as well as “abuse of proxy vote” — warrants an ethics investigation, a watchdog group said Tuesday.
When first elected to Congress last January, Hawaii Democrat Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele joined the transportation and infrastructure committee and its aviation subcommittee. The congressman, 48, still works as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, according to his spokesperson. Last year, he co-sponsored four bills related to aviation that his employer lobbied for.
“The employment relationship is one that would, at a minimum, give the appearance the Member was unable to act impartially or that the employer has special access to the Member,” The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) wrote to the office of congressional ethics in a letter.
Kahele earned roughly $120,000 in 2020 as a pilot, according to House disclosures. He said further that he made $29,000 last year from Hawaiian Airlines and roughly $2,800 so far in 2022. Kahele is also still an “active member” of the airline’s union, The Air Line Pilots Association union, and “is a certified commercial pilot and active member of Hawaiian Airlines,” his spokesperson said.
“Moreover, this is a case where a stricter conflict of interest analysis applies because Kahele is cosponsoring legislation and taking action as a committee member that directly affects his outside employer, which is further evidenced by Hawaiian Airlines lobbying on the bills Kahele cosponsored and the subject matter of the committee,” the watchdog also wrote.
From February to September 2021, four bills Kahele co-sponsored were The National Aviation Preparedness Plan Act, The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act, The Healthy Flights Act, and The Sustainable Skies Act. A Hawaii news outlet reported in April that Kahele has overwhelmingly voted by proxy this year and spends very little time in Washington, D.C., which FACT wants investigated.
Michael Chamberlain, who directs the separate watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, told The Daily Wire that financial conflicts of interest, like arguably in the case of Kahele, are continually “disappointing” and “concerning.”
“Even worse, when those conflicts involve financial enrichment of private actors, the need for a full investigation becomes more important and can lead to much more significant penalties,” he said.
Kahele has cast 120 votes by proxy since his five in-person votes in January, according to his voting record — meaning one of his colleague’s votes on his behalf. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) green-lit proxy voting, but the Senate requires in-person votes.
The Hawaii Democrat claimed in a letter to a House clerk that he is “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber” because of the pandemic. But Kahele’s presence on social media indicates he is not quarantining and attending public gatherings.
While voting by proxy on March 18, the congressman was giving a speech in Makua, Hawaii, according to his Twitter. Similarly, Kahele voted by proxy on February 4 while at a state park and a farm.
A spokesperson for Kahele did not respond to a Daily Wire request for comment.
“For each of his 120 proxy votes, Kahele stated he was ‘unable to physically attend’ House proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” FACT writes in its letter. “However, it clearly appears that was not the reason Kahele did not vote in person for approximately three months. Rather, seemingly it was because he was attending other public and political events during this time.”
The House ethics committee did not respond to a request for comment.