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Saturday, October 25, 2014         

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Aiona violated campaign gift rules, Dems say

The party alleges a Republican group coordinated advertising with the candidate

By Derrick DePledge

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Hawaii Democrats filed a complaint yesterday with the state Campaign Spending Commission alleging that Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona's campaign for governor and the Republican Governors Association coordinated advertising on Aiona's behalf and violated state campaign contribution limits.

The RGA has spent more than $816,000 on ads and brochures in Hawaii since August to help Aiona against former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, his Democratic opponent. The ads are considered electioneering communications and are not officially coordinated with the Aiona campaign.

But the Democratic Party of Hawaii alleges that the RGA's ads were coordinated with the Aiona campaign and should be counted as campaign contributions. Donors are allowed to give candidates for governor a maximum $6,000 under state campaign-finance law. Democrats also allege that if the ads are counted as campaign contributions, the Aiona campaign would have also exceeded the 30 percent limit on mainland donations.

The Democrats' claim that the Aiona campaign's decision to share detailed polling data with the RGA in June and September was coordinated activity used to plan the advertising.

"We think this is about the clearest case of coordination that can be made from public documents," said Tony Gill, an attorney and the chairman of Oahu Democrats.

Gill said it defies common sense that Aiona's polling data were unrelated to the RGA's decision to launch ads and were not used to influence the content of the ads.

Travis Taylor, a spokesman for the Aiona campaign, acknowledged that the Aiona campaign shared polling data with the RGA. But he said the campaign did not coordinate with the RGA over the ads. He called the Democrats' complaint politically motivated.

"Now that the momentum of this campaign has shifted, our opponent is playing Washington politics in a desperate attempt to divert attention away from his inability to explain whether he will cut programs, raise taxes or fail to deliver on his promises to grow government at the expense of small businesses and working families," Taylor said in a statement. "The Aiona-Finnegan campaign and the RGA have fully complied with all applicable laws."

Chris Schrimpf, an RGA spokesman, said the RGA has complied with the law. "Though we have fully complied with the law, these are the kind of negative campaign tactics and baseless allegations we would expect from a congressman who is losing his campaign and is desperate to stay in elected office," he said in a statement. "It seems Abercrombie will do anything to distract voters from his congressional record of raiding Social Security and raising taxes."

The RGA's advertising helped Aiona keep visible while voter and news media attention was centered on the Democratic primary between Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. The RGA's ads also helped Aiona outflank Abercrombie in the first few weeks after the primary.

Over the past few weeks, Abercrombie's allies in labor and the Democratic Governors Association have countered with independent advertising on his behalf. The union ads riff off the "Rise and Shine" theme of the RGA's spots. The DGA, which has spent more than $224,000 on ads in Hawaii, has suggested Aiona would be a roadblock to Hawaii-born President Obama.

Gill said he hopes the complaint will lead the Campaign Spending Commission to determine what qualifies as coordinated activity. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission allowed unlimited independent political spending by corporations, and many interest groups are testing the boundaries of state and federal campaign-finance laws.

"This allows us to force the question of what is coordination," Gill said, "because it's the last bulwark in the law. You've got nothing else left."






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