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Mayor's race draws big-spending PACs

Fresh reports show groups pouring cash into TV and radio ads

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 10:38 a.m. HST, Oct 30, 2012

A union-backed political action committee known as Workers for a Better Hawaii spent more than $700,000 in recent months supporting Hono­lulu mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell and opposing former Gov. Ben Caye­tano.

Prominent Honolulu businessman Robert Iwa­moto contributed $100,000 to Save­Our­Hono­, a political action committee dedicated to electing Caye­tano.

Windward businessman Joe Pickard donated $40,000 to Defend Truth, a second PAC set up to support Caye­tano's candidacy.

The information about the three PACs is contained in reports filed Monday with the state Campaign Spending Commission. Active candidates and PACs had until midnight to file their latest list of contributions and expenditures.

Among the independent noncandidate committees that had not yet filed by 7 p.m. Monday was the Pacific Resource Partnership PAC, which reported spending more than $1.2 million before the August primary election to oppose Caye­tano.

Hawaii's airwaves and, to a lesser extent, print media have seen an unprecedented number of campaign advertisements this year. The escalation can be attributed to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that essentially made it legal for businesses, unions and other groups to spend an unlimited amount in support or opposition of a political candidate as long as there is no coordination between the groups and the candidates.

MOST of Hawaii's labor unions back Caldwell, and many of the labor-related PACs cite his support for the city's $5.26 billion rail project and Caye­tano's promise to kill the controversial endeavor.

Even without PRP's latest expenditures, the $1.9 million known to have been spent by pro-Caldwell PACs far outpaces the $244,000 spent by the two Caye­tano groups.

Workers for a Better Hawaii appears to be a partnership of government and trade industry unions. It reported spending $675,675.15 in "Hono­lulu mayoral media" primarily for television and radio ads during the same August-October period. The PAC also reported receiving $705,000 in all, $700,000 from the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters in September. The remaining $5,000 came from the Maryland-based International Union of Painters & Allied Trades.

The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters lists its address as 1311 Houghtailing St., the same address as the Hawaii Carpenters Union. Workers for a Better Hawaii lists former Hawaii Government Employees Association official Nora Nomura as its chairwoman, ILWU official Guy Fujimura as its treasurer and HGEA Comptroller Maureen Waku­zawa as its custodian of books and accounts. Neither Nomura, Fujimura nor Waku­zawa could be reached for comment Monday., an anti-rail and pro-Caye­tano group, reported $163,250 in contributions from Aug. 12 to Oct. 22, making Iwa­moto's contribution more than half of its revenue source. Iwa­moto could not be reached at his office Monday.

Two Kailua retirees, Kimberley Dey and Elizabeth Rice Grossman, each chipped in $25,000 to the PAC. Among other notable contributors to the PAC was ABC Stores President Paul Kosasa, who contributed $1,000.

The PAC reported spending $154,792 during the August-October period, largely on television and radio and other forms of advertising. Save­Our­Hono­'s chairman is Walter Heen, former chairman of the Caye­tano campaign. The treasurer and custodian of records is listed as businessman and longtime rail opponent Cliff Slater.

Defend Truth is headed by retired teacher Milton Hiro­hata. The group was formerly known as Defend Ben but was told to change names because it was not allowed to use Caye­tano in its name. Pickard's contribution is less than half the $81,000 the group reported receiving from August to October. Another five-digit contributor was Koolau Leasing LLC, which chipped in $10,000.

Defend Truth reported spending $80,865.43, all of it given to downtown Hono­lulu-based Heinrich Witter Bullard Marketing for advertising.

Also Monday, Cayetano attorney James Bickerton fired off letters to the chief executives of all four major network affiliates in Hawaii, urging them to stop running "false and defamatory" advertisements by PRP.

PRP is a trade name for the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund, a consortium made up of the Hawaii Carpenters Union and trade contractors that use unionized workers. Funding comes from contractors who contribute based on the number of hours worked by unionized employees.

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