What is the Bishop Estate?
by John S. Pritchett Copyright 1999

   The Bishop Estate is the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii, governed by five trustees who are each paid more than $800,000. annually. With assets of around $10 billion, it is one of the richest private charities in the world, whose sole beneficiary is the Kamehameha Schools, located in the heights above Honolulu with a student body of only about 3,200.

    The estate was created in 1884 by the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha the great, credited for uniting the Hawaiian Islands during the 18th century. Princess Pauahi died of cancer at the age of 52 and left the bulk of her estate, "to erect and maintain in the Hawaiian Islands two schools, one for boys and one for girls, to be called the Kamehameha Schools." In her will, the princess decreed that the estate be governed by a five member board of trustees, to be appointed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

    The governor of the state of Hawaii appoints the Supreme Court justices and also provides the names of candidates to be considered for the lucrative Bishop Estate Trustee position. Because of this cozy relationship between the government and the estate, the coveted trustee position, over time, became a plum for Hawaii's Democrat machine insiders. For over fifty years the Democrats have ruled Hawaii. " It is the longest running continuous political machine in U.S. history." Says political commentator David Broder

    Being accountable to no one and in control of so much wealth and power, for so long, the trustees festered with greed and arrogance. Honolulu Weekly, Hawaii's alternative news weekly, raised a red flag in editorials and cartoons as early as 1991 but the mainstream media, always in support of the local government and the status quo, were relatively quiet until 1997 when corruption at the estate became so transparent as to be undeniable.

    On August 9, 1997, a small group of prominent Hawaii activists, published a newspaper article titled, "Broken Trust" which called for the removal of all but one of the trustees and urged the state to investigate. An investigation was conducted by the state attorney general and also by the IRS. On May 7, 1999, Probate Judge, Kevin Chang ordered the trustees temporarily removed after the IRS threatened to revoke the estate's tax-exempt status. By December 13, 1999, all five of the Bishop Estate Trustees had either resigned or were permanently removed by court order.

A fish rots from the head down.


Bishop Estate Trustees | Hawaii Politics | Home Page | Search | Email Pritchett