The state Campaign Spending Commission voted today to dismiss a complaint by Hawaii Democrats that alleged Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona and the Republican Governors Association improperly coordinated advertising during Aiona’s unsuccessful campaign for governor last year.
The 4 to 0 vote came after the commission staff found no evidence of direct coordination between the Aiona campaign and the RGA, which spent about $1 million on advertising on Aiona’s behalf in Hawaii.
The Aiona campaign acknowledged in October that it shared polling data with the RGA in June and September. The RGA reported receiving the research data from the Aiona campaign on its federal campaign spending reports.
But Gary Kam, general counsel for the Campaign Spending Commission, said the direct contact was between the RGA and The Tarrance Group, the national firm that conducted the surveys, and not between the RGA and the Aiona campaign.
Kam said the U.S. Supreme Court has held that government regulators must not presume but show actual acts of coordination. “There’s just no evidence of that in this case,” he told the commission.
Terry Thomason, an attorney representing the Aiona campaign, said the Aiona campaign did not approach the RGA or initiate the sharing of polling data. The RGA, he said, asked for access to the data from the polling firm.
“All the campaign did was authorize that,” he said.
Both major political parties were monitoring the complaint because, beyond the specific issues in question, it stemmed from the unprecedented flood of mainland political spending by independent groups in Hawaii last year in the governor’s race and in the urban Honolulu congressional campaign.
While much of the spending was due to the potentially competitive nature of the campaigns, the 2010 elections were the first since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission that allowed unlimited independent political spending by corporations.
Leaders of both political parties believe the pattern could be repeated in 2012, when the campaign to replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, will likely attract national attention.
Dante Carpenter, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, which brought the complaint against the Aiona campaign, said he wanted the Campaign Spending Commission to set some boundaries and prevent the state’s campaign-finance restrictions from being rendered meaningless.
“It is their job to make doggone sure that it comports with Hawaii state law,” he said of independent spending by groups such as the RGA. “We’re contending that it does not.”