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Congressman’s Airline Income While Pushing Related Bills, Proxy Voting, Warrants Ethics Probe: Watchdog

A watchdog organisation claimed Tuesday that a congressman’s sponsorship of bills affecting the aviation industry while taking money from Hawaii’s largest commercial aircraft operator, as well as “abuse of proxy vote,” merits an ethics probe.

Understanding the situation

Hawaii Democrat Rep. Kaialii Kahele joined the transportation and infrastructure committee and its aviation subcommittee when she was first elected to Congress in January. According to his spokeswoman, the lawmaker, 48, continues to work as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines. He co-sponsored four aviation bills that his firm lobbied for last year.

“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.

Kaiali'i Kahele

According to House records, Kahele earned around $120,000 as a pilot in 2020. He also stated that Hawaiian Airlines paid him $29,000 last year and $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.

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