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Friday, August 15, 2014
HI House leader ousted in election primary amid controversy
By Malia Zimmerman @ 5:11 PM :: 4889 Views :: Democratic Party, Ethics, Politicians

CABANILLA: House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla with Gov. Neil Abercrombie

HI House leader ousted in election primary amid controversy

by Malia Zimmerman, Watchdog.org, August 15, 2014

HONOLULU — House Majority floor leader Rida Cabanilla is out of a job after losing the Democratic primary to Matt LoPresti.

Watchdog.org was the first to report in May that Cabanilla of Ewa, Oahu, controlled a nonprofit that received a $100,000 grant from the Hawaii State Legislature. The 501(c) (3) charity, Ewa Historical Society Inc., lost its federal tax-exempt status with the IRS when it neglected to file required paperwork for at least three years, according to Guidestar.org.

Cabanilla told Watchdog.org she filed paperwork with the IRS to rectify the issue, but that was after she already applied for — and was granted — funding from the Legislature. Cabanilla had not told fellow lawmakers she controlled the charity before they granted the charity’s request, and her name did not appear anywhere on the application submitted to the Legislature.

LoPresti will take on former Honolulu City Council Member Tom Berg, who is running as a Libertarian in the general election. Brian Jeremiah, a New Hope pastor who reformed himself after criminal past, is running as a Republican.

The Old Ewa Cemetery, a historic site founded in 1896, has been owned by the city and county of Honolulu since the 1970s and is maintained by the city and county and volunteers, including descendants of people buried there. Berg noted the charity applied in January for a $200,000 grant from the Legislature to hire three landscapers at $42,000 a piece and three grounds keepers at $23,000 each to take care of the 3-acre Old Ewa Cemetery.

If the grant had been awarded it would have equated to $17,000 a month in state funding going toward maintenance, in addition to what the city already does monthly, Berg said.

Since the Legislature awarded Cabanilla’s charity just half the money it requested, she told Watchdog.org, “The $100,000 is just for weed whacking.”

Cabanilla explained she originally listed six positions on the application because she didn’t want anyone to work at the cemetery alone because of safety concerns, including sink holes near graves and ghost sightings. The state attorney general said in July that Cabanilla’s charity would not receive the grant because of the tax filing issue.

In Nov. 2013, the state Campaign Spending Commission fined Cabanilla $500 for filing “false or inaccurate” campaign spending reports and $50 for filing the reports late. Cabanilla held a fundraiser in March 2013, which raised nearly $5,800 and expended nearly $2,900. Her campaign spending report said she had no activity during that period.  She apologized publicly for her “error.”

In January, Cabanilla brought media coverage after she proposed solving Hawaii’s financial troubles by legalizing cultivating, manufacturing and exporting marijuana and marijuana food products internationally. In July, Cabanilla proposed implementing “Return to Home,” which would set aside $100,000 over three years to buy homeless people from the U.S. mainland one-way airfare home. Cabanilla said giving the homeless airline tickets would reduce the ever-growing problem of homelessness in Hawaii and ensure the homeless can reconnect with family and support networks in their home states.

Neither the governor nor the state Department of Human Services, the agency that establishes and administers the program under state law, has implemented it. The Department of Human Service director said she believes the program would attract more homeless people to Hawaii.

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