Questions Raised About Kai Kahele’s Work at Hawaiian Airlines

WASHINGTON — The nearly four-month absence of U.S. Representative Kai Kahele from the nation’s capital now raises questions about whether he violated House ethics rules regarding his employment as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot. .

Civil Beat published an article on Kahele’s voting record on Monday that detailed how the first-term congressman was using Covid-19 proxy voting protocols to stay at home in the islands where he is mulling a campaign for the post of governor.

The article gained popularity with national media, Politics for The daily beast and News. Politico and Punchbowl News have made stories about Kahele still working for Hawaiian Airlines while representing Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district.

Kai Kahele is now being questioned about his work for Hawaiian Airlines in Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

House ethics rules say in 2022 members of Congress can’t win over $29,895 from an outside employer. Punchbowl News pointed out that Hawaiian Airlines is hiring new pilots at a pay rate of $81 an hour. Kahele has worked for the company since at least 2016, when he was first appointed to public office.

Kahele’s office told Punchbowl News and Politico that Kahele earned less than the outside income threshold allowed by ethics rules.

Kahele’s spokesperson, Michael Ahn, told Politico that Kahele is “fully ethical.” Ahn added that Kahele is an active member of the Air Line Pilots Association and is active with Hawaiian Airlines as a commercial pilot.

“He flies occasionally to maintain his certification,” Ahn said of Kahele, but has a “significantly reduced schedule to maintain his active status.”

Kahele’s financial disclosure statements filed with the clerk’s office show that he earned $120,000 in 2020 working for Hawaiian Airlines, but because he has not yet been elected, he was not subject to the earned income limits.

Kahele, who also serves in the Hawaii Air National Guard, has yet to file her 2021 financial disclosure statement and has until May to do so or request an extension.

“Congress doesn’t do a good job of controlling itself. There are a lot of loopholes in the rules. — Delaney Marsco, Campaign Legal Center

Kahele’s office did not respond Tuesday to questions from Civil Beat about his work with Hawaiian Airlines or a request to meet with the congressman to discuss his work with the company. Previously, Kahele’s office said he was unavailable to talk about proxy voting.

The office also could not provide Civil Beat with documentation supporting its statements to Politico and Punchbowl News that Kahele was in full compliance with House ethics rules.

Kahele’s potential ethical problem goes beyond the amount he is paid by Hawaiian Airlines.

The company’s political action committee donated thousands of dollars to Kahele’s campaign. He also has cases before two committees on which Kahele sits – Transportation and Armed Services.

Federal records show Hawaiian Airlines lobbied Congress on at least six bills Kahele was a co-sponsor on, including the Fair and Open Skies Act, which sought to address labor issues and curb competition from foreign air carriers.

When he was running for Congress, Kahele, whose wife works as a flight attendant at Hawaiian Airlines, often flew the leg from Honolulu to Boston so he could travel to Washington to campaign.

The house’s ethics rules are murky when it comes to conflicts of interest, according to Delaney Marsco, senior ethics counsel at the Campaign Law Center. In general, she said it’s up to the MP to signal whether they have a financial interest in the legislation, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent them from voting or advancing a bill.

“The rules are pretty vague,” Marsco said. “It’s really up to the member to decide if they decide to take action on certain issues.”

Another concern is that the House Ethics Committee is not an independent body, she said. It is made up of other members of Congress.

“Congress doesn’t do a good job of controlling itself,” Marsco said. “There are a lot of loopholes in the rules.”

Alex Da Silva, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines, didn’t provide much information about Kahele’s status with the company, saying only that he “remains an active employee.”

Regarding political activities, Da Silva said “we regularly engage with the entire Hawaii Congressional delegation on aviation industry issues and conduct our political activities in an ethical and responsible manner in accordance with the rules. of established ethics”.

He did not provide information on Kahele’s salary or how often he flew for the company.

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