Something really weird is going on with House Speaker Joe Souki’s Financial Disclosure Statements in regards to his investment in Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI). It all started on June 13, when Honolulu reporter/blogger Ian Lind put up this post on how his reading of the longtime Wailuku state Representative and Speaker of the House’s financial disclosure statements indicated something screwy with his HEI investments. To wit:
“Sometime in the year before Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy announced their proposed merger, House Speaker Joe Souki at least doubled his investment in Hawaiian Electric. And when the share price jumped after the merger was announced, he enjoyed another boost in his investment’s value.”
That’s actually a very serious matter. If it’s just luck, then Souki got a nice break and that’s great for him. But if he had secret info about the pending HEI/NextEra merger, then that smacks of insider trading, which is quite bad.
Lind’s June 13 post laid it out in detail Souki’s various Financial Disclosure Statements, beginning with the 2012 statement that showed Souki owned 729 shares of HEI. Then Lind combined some math with historical HEI share prices to show that a sudden increase in the value of Souki’s HEI investment in 2014 seemed to indicate that he’d bought a lot of shares in the period between July 2013 and February 2014. But missing from Lind’s 2013 report was any statement from Souki himself.
When it seemed that no mainstream news source was following up on Lind’s reporting–or at least just getting Souki’s explanation–I emailed Souki on June 16 and asked for his comment on Lind’s post. Souki denied buying any additional shares of HEI. In fact, he denied ever buying any shares of HEI.
“I did not purchase one share since I inherited the Stock from my mother around 1988,” Souki said in an email. “The number of shares I inherited was around 364, it doubled by [sic] on a 2 to one split in 2004 increasing shares to 729, which is what I own presently.”
Unbeknownst to me, at the same time Souki was emailing me he was also in the process of responding to Lind. Not only did Souki tell Lind the same thing about inheriting the HEI shares from his mom and benefitting from a stock split, but he added that he’d also filled out those Financial Disclosure Statements wrong. Here’s Souki’s explanation in a Honolulu Civil Beat story Lind put up today:
“‘It was a mental error on my part,’ he said.
Souki said he selected the wrong category when designating the value of his Hawaiian Electric shares using the Ethics Comission [sic] reporting system, which uses letters to designate value ranges.
Souki said he mistakenly selected category “E”, indicating a value of at least $50,000 but less than $100,000.
‘I put it in the wrong block,’ he said.
He added with a chuckle: ‘I don’t have that kind of money.'”
There’s more, too. See, Lind couldn’t help but notice that Souki had filed a Financial Disclosure Statement in 2014 that indicated that Souki had NO financial interests of any kind (Souki had checked the box marked “NONE” under each and every category). There’s no possible way that any of that was true. Here’s Souki’s explanation to Lind:
When asked about it this week, Souki seemed confused and was unable to explain how or why he had signed off on this blank document as accurate.
Souki described it as another “mental error.”
Financial Disclosure Statements are designed to give the public a picture of any financial interests an official (elected or appointed) might hold, so that the public can make sure the official isn’t making decisions for some sort of personal gain. But the forms used to declare financial interests in this state (and county) aren’t very clear, offering vague check-off boxes and value ranges instead of hard numbers and explanations.
And that’s when they’re filled out correctly. Well, apparently correctly, because given Souki’s explanations–and the question of whether he’ll face any sort of sanction for screwing up his disclosure statements–who the hell knows anymore.