Pay to Play -- What's That? Hirono for Governor Campaign Closes Owing State Elections Fund Over $98,000
By Andrew Walden, October 11, 2006
Former Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Mazie Hirono’s campaign committee may never pay over $98,000 in unpaid assessments for illegal campaign contributions says the Executive Director of the State Campaign Spending Commission, Barbara Wong.
According to Wong, Hirono, a former lieutenant governor who ran for governor in 2002 and is now campaigning for Congress, closed out her gubernatorial campaign committee in May 2006 without paying assessments for $98,367.84. The assessments were levied after the Campaign Spending Commission investigators uncovered thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions, contributed to Hirono as a part of Hawaii's extensive "Pay to Play" scandal.
Her committee, “Friends of Mazie Hirono”, which served her failed 2002 gubernatorial candidacy, was terminated in May of this year with transfer of a final payment of $18,573.58 -- the committee’s entire remaining bank balance -- to the State Elections Fund.
This, along with an earlier payment of $38,000, leaves unpaid assessments for illegal contributions totaling $98,367.84. The assessments were levied as recently as April 21, 2006, as previously unknown illegal campaign contributions were uncovered.
Explains Wong, “If they left their committee open, we would still be after them. Once the campaign committee is over we cannot escheat something that is not there.” For the Campaign Spending Commission to be authorized to pursue the candidate as an individual or to pursue a new campaign committee formed by the same candidate, changes would be required to be made to state campaign laws. Said Wong, “We gotta look at legislation.”
Wong points out that due to state law, a candidate may continue using the same campaign committee to run for different state and county offices but to run for federal office such as Congress or Senate, a new committee must be formed. Thanks to a loophole in state law, a candidate’s new committee is not responsible for illegal campaign contribution assessments levied against a previous campaign committee.
Hirono is not the only politician with unpaid assessments. Former Maui Mayor Kimo Apana closed out his campaign committee with a final payment of $2,415.12 for illegal campaign contributions. That combined with a payment of $14,400 “some years ago” leave much of Apana’s campaign committee illegal contribution assessments -- reported to total $110,000 -- unpaid. Former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris’ campaign committee is reported to owe as much as $925,000 for illegal contributions and Hirono’s former boss, Gov. Ben Cayetano’s committee is reported to owe as much as $487,650.
One of the Campaign Spending Commission’s so-called “conciliation agreements” (CA 04-16) on the agency's web site shows that Dexter C. Kubota, president of KFC Engineering Management, directed $31,165 in illegal contributions to Hirono’s committee. The agreement is dated Nov. 10, 2004 and signed by Kubota.
Link to Conciliation Agreements: http://www.hawaii.gov/campaign/fines.htm
These illegal contributions to Hirono and the others came as part of Hawaii’s “Pay to Play” scandal. About 100 corporations, many with multi-million dollar state road-building contracts, made illegal excessive or false-name contributions to Democrat Machine politicians’ campaign committees in exchange for favorable treatment in contracting.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature responded by raiding the state’s “special funds” to fund lucrative construction contracts for their contributors. The scheme, which heavily involved the Cayetano/Hirono administration, fell apart after Hirono lost the 2002 gubernatorial race. Investigations by former state Campaign Spending Commissioner Bob Watada, who retired Oct. 31, 2005, revealed the massive scandal resulting in fines against the corporations involved in the scheme and assessments demanding repayment of the illegal contributions from the candidate committees who received them.
In spite of all the incentives for the Hawaii Democrat Machine to spend on road building, most of the contract funding went to wasteful projects. As a result, many Hawaii communities suffer from lack of roads, serious traffic jams, and many traffic deaths.
Hirono’s new Congressional campaign committee is also called, “Friends of Mazie Hirono.” The mailing address is even the same post office box as her gubernatorial campaign committee, but according to Wong it is a different legal entity.
An Oct. 10 statement released by Hirono’s Congressional campaign committee is titled, “Leadership and Ethics.” In it she argues that electing her to Congress “will play an important part in helping ensure that Congress is in the hands of reliable, responsible leaders.”
When asked about her role in the Pay to Play scandal, Hirono’s campaign manager Julie Stauch indicated she had never heard of it, saying, “What’s that?” Stauch said she would have to do some research before providing a more substantive answer. Wong indicated that no other Hawaii media had inquired about the status of Hirono’s Pay-to-Play illegal campaign contribution assessments.