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Ethics report: Rep. Kai Kahele may have ‘misused official resources’

Office of Congressional Ethics probed Hawaii Democrat’s posts online

Rep. Kai Kahele walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol on May 12.
Rep. Kai Kahele walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol on May 12. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Outgoing Hawaii Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele may have “misused official resources for campaign or political purposes,” according to the Office of Congressional Ethics, which recommended that the House Ethics Committee probe further. 

Such actions could violate House rules or even federal law, the OCE concluded in a report released Monday. 

The social media accounts of Kahele’s campaign “may have posted videos and photos that were photographed or filmed from official House buildings, rooms, and offices, used official graphics and social media posts, shared official communications, or promoted official events,” according to the report

The report included images taken from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, including one of Kahele pushing the green light on a panel in the House chamber dated Jan. 13, 2021, saying he was voting to impeach President Donald Trump. House rules prohibit the use of footage of floor activities “for any partisan political purpose,” the report said, quoting ethics guidelines distributed to members.

“The scale of the misuse and the scope of Rep. Kahele’s disregard for creating a bright line separation on social media between campaign purposes and official resources was unique and disproportionate compared to other Members of Congress,” the report stated. “Even if Rep. Kahele believed that the accounts were personal in nature, the campaign nature of the social media accounts was unmistakable necessitating safeguards against misuse.”

OCE also noted in its report that Kahele had not cooperated: “By declining to provide requested information to the OCE and making misleading statements during his interview with OCE staff, Rep. Kahele did not cooperate with the OCE review. The Board recommends that the Committee on Ethics issue a subpoena.”

In a letter to the OCE dated Sept. 14, Kahele wrote that throughout OCE’s review of the allegations against him, “I have intended to comply in full.” He also wrote that he contests the allegation that he misused official resources, adding that “I have never posted official material in my capacity as a U.S. Representative on my political campaign account.”   

In another matter, the OCE recommended dismissing other allegations that Kahele had taken official action on issues that related to his other job as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, saying there was “not substantial reason to believe that Rep. Kahele may have taken official action on issues related to his employer that may affect his financial interests or dispensed special favors or privileges to this same entity.” 

Even though Kahele may have violated House ethics rules, the House Ethics Committee has jurisdiction only over sitting lawmakers, and Kahele is on his way out in early January. He ran for governor of Hawaii, not for reelection to the House, and finished third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in August.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who lost her House seat in a primary earlier this year, was also recently the subject of an ethics probe that may, similarly, end when she departs Congress.

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