Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sen. Wakai's Affiliate Included in Lobbyist's Bankruptcy; LLC Reportedly Established to Lobby for Gambling in Hawaii Omitted

According to Court Documents filed in the Elizabeth Hata Watanabe bankruptcy case, she owes High Impact Communications located in Honolulu, $3,841.45, noted as a claim for general business services billed in 2010. | Testimonials
High Impact Communications is a Honolulu public relations firm owned by Glenn Wakai.  Watanabe is featured on the firm’s website: “Testimonials” page. 
“High Impact Communications has been there for me every step of the way. I could not be more satisfied. Glenn’s media strategy and crisis management plans have been key to my profitability. He is quick to respond to requests, takes an energetic approach to projects, and is such a joy to work with.”
- Liz Watanabe, Business Owner

It’s unclear what purposes Watanabe, or her affiliate(s), retained Wakai to provide.  She had closed down her failed O Lounge nightclub (EHW, LLC) and a short-lived restaurant operation (EHW-II, LLC) prior to 2010 but had organized a tax-exempt nonprofit, the Hata Foundation, to raise funds for other charities; and in 2010, that nonprofit was affiliated with Hawaii’s Big Deal: Poker Tournament, a reality TV show that aired on KHON Saturdays during Fall 2010.

Hawaii Sen. Glenn Wakai (D-15th)
As it turns out, Glenn Wakai, a Democrat, also serves as Hawaii State Senator, representing the voters of District 15: Kalihi, Moanalua Gardens, Salt Lake, Aliamanu, Foster Village, Hickam, Pearl Harbor, Pearl Ridge and ‘Aiea. 

Previously, Sen. Wakai served eight years in the State House of Representatives. He is the current vice-chair of the Senate's Committee on Economic Development and Technology, and is a member of the Committees on Ways and Means, and Agriculture.

Wakai was also a TV news reporter affiliated with KHON-FOX2 and KHNL News 8.  He formed High Impact in 2007.

According to the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii website, Wakai was to host the “Stars of Hope” fundraiser for Watanabe and the Hata Foundation in January 2011. Individual tickets were $100; tables of 10 seats $1,000; and sponsorships at $2,000. A blog associated with the Star-Advertiser notes that Sen. Will Espero was also Watanabe’s guest at the event; although there's been disclosure of any gift or payment to Espero.

Limited Liability Company Established &
 Managed By Elizabeth Hata Watanabe 
April 1, 2011, Watanabe reportedly organized and registered Citizensfor a Better Way, LLC (CFBW), with the Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs (DCCA).  About April 2, she registered with the Hawaii Ethics Commission as a lobbyist for CFBW. Watanabe has not previously been registered as a lobbyist. CFBWs mission: Say No to Taxes…Yes to a Single Casino in Waikiki.  By all indications, Watanabe is partnering with career lobbyist John Radcliffe on this effort; but to what extent, is unclear because both have been mysterious and dishonest about details to date.

So, in her original Bankruptcy filing, Watanabe reported owing Sen. Wakai's firm  $3,841.45 but failed to inform the Bankruptcy Court of her affiliation with CFBW, a group she registered with DCCA about six weeks before filing bankruptcy. It's worthy of noting that Watanabe is the only member of CFBW and its Manager. On May 31st, about two weeks prior to filing bankruptcy, Watanabe, as manager of CFBW, made payments of nearly $40,000 related to “Advertising Media” expenses.  It’s not clear what, if anything, Wakai’s PR firm might have received.  Watanabe and Radcliffe have yet to truthfully disclose where that money came from and to whom it was paid.

Oddly, CFBW failed to report any payments to lobbyist Watanabe as part of its required disclosures for the period ended April 30, 2011; although, as noted above, she is registered with the Ethics Commission.

During Hawaii’s 2011 legislative session, Radcliffe and Watanabe pushed for approval of SB 1247, a bill that would have allowed one commercial casino to be developed in Waikiki at the Aloha Tower and Marketplace.  

As a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, Sen. Wakai voted to approve SB 1247, moving it forward in the legislative process. 

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