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Suit against PRP’s ugliness might expose secret donors

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Legal precedent would seem to give mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano little chance of winning a defamation lawsuit against Pacific Resources Partnership for falsely implying he gave state contracts for bribes when he was governor.

Both the U.S. and state supreme courts have set an extremely high bar for proving libel and slander — especially for public figures — and few cases have succeeded.

But even if he loses the lawsuit, Cayetano could still make a little dent in the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision if he succeeds in smoking out PRP’s donors in its relentless campaign against him, which could reach $3 million.

In Citizens United, the court opened the floodgates to special-interest money in our elections by allowing business and labor groups to spend unlimited amounts on behalf of candidates without disclosing the source of the money.

PRP, which represents the Carpenters Union and contractors who expect big profits from the $5.26 billion Oahu rail project that Cayetano opposes, has refused to identify the donors funding its campaign against him.

Cayetano’s attorneys are asking the court to force out the names of the donors so they can be added as defendants.

If they succeed, it’ll provide an avenue to strip away some of the secrecy that makes the political action committees allowed under Citizens United so toxic to our political process.

PRP has flooded the airwaves with ads that deceitfully suggest the two-term former governor took playoffs for state contracts and freed murderers and rapists to prey again.

A half-dozen slick mailers have dubiously attempted to tie Caye­tano, a lifelong Demo­crat, to Mitt Romney, the tea party and anti-Obama birthers, while falsely implying that Kirk Caldwell is the officially endorsed Demo­cratic candidate in the nonpartisan mayor’s race.

PRP has used disreputable push polls to spread its message by phone and has an army of canvassers in the neighborhoods paid $12 to $20 an hour.

The group that tries so hard to tie itself to the Demo­crats is using every page from Republican mastermind Karl Rove’s book of political thuggery, with a few tricks from the GOP’s infamous Willie Horton campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

PRP’s tactics go against the grain of what other major Hawaii campaigns are doing this year after severe negative politicking got a bad rap in our 2010 races for governor and Congress.

But Hawaii has never seen an assault of nearly this magnitude on the reputation of a candidate; Mufi Hannemann’s ignominious "Compare & Decide" brochure that helped derail him for governor was mild stuff compared with what PRP is throwing at Caye­tano.

Next week’s election will be the clearest test ever of whether such mainland-style tactics work in Hawaii and will leave an indelible mark on our political future.


Reach David Shapiro at or

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