Hawaii political action committee under fire for non-disclosure


IS IT A CRIME? Former Gov. Ben Cayetano convinced campaign spending commissioners to refer his complaint against a super PAC that targeted him during the 2012 election to the prosecutor for further criminal action

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU – Hawaii’s state campaign spending commissioners want the Honolulu city prosecutor to investigate a case brought by former Gov. Ben Cayetano against Pacific Resource Partnership’s political action committee.

Pacific Resource Partnership, an affiliate of the Hawaii Carpenters Union, didn’t disclose several hundred thousand dollars it spent on consultants in an effort to defeat Cayetano in the 2012 Honolulu mayoral race, according to a complaint filed earlier this year with the commission by Cayetano.

Unionized carpenters and independent contractors established the Pacific Resource Partnership PAC called Forward Progress.

That group spent nearly $2 million on negative advertising targeting Cayetano, and helping pro-rail candidate Kirk Caldwell win the mayoral election. The organization opposed Cayetano because he planned to stop construction of the controversial $5.2 billion elevated steel rail system if elected.

The advertisements Pacific Resource Partnership sponsored alleged Cayetano was corrupt and broke the law while he was governor from 1994 to 2002.

In a separate action, Cayetano sued Pacific Resource Partnership for slander and libel in 2012, winning a $125,000 settlement in June that he requested be donated to charity. The organization also issued a written apology to Cayetano through Hawaii media.

As a result of the lawsuit, Cayetano obtained 488 pages of emails, from which he learned Ho’okea Communications, a company owned by former journalists Barbara Tanabe and Jim McCoy, was paid more than $102,600 for work on the mayoral campaign.

Andy Winer, an attorney and Democrat strategist who currently serves as U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s chief of staff, was paid $136,800.

Neither was disclosed in Pacific Resource Partnership’s campaign spending reports, Cayetano said.

Cayetano’s complaint against Pacific Resource Partnership said the organization violated campaign laws by organizing to defeat his mayoral candidacy before filing organizational reports. The organization also failed to report related expenditures, and in its reports omitted payments to major consultants, Cayetano said.

Commissioners, by a vote of three to one, determined Cayetano’s complaint warrants further investigation.

Pacific Resource Partnership’s PAC is facing a second investigation by the Honolulu city prosecutor. Campaign spending commissioners also referred a case for possible action against the group for failing to disclose $86,000 it spent on fliers in support of three campaigns.

The candidates who benefited were Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga and Hawaii County Council candidate Valerie Poindexter.

Pacific Resource Partnership’s attorney maintains the organization didn’t intentionally withhold the information in either case. Commissioners denied the attorney’s request to settle the case by paying a fine to the commission.

Commissioners said the amount of money the organization failed to disclose in both cases was substantial and they were concerned about what appeared to be a pattern of non disclosure.