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PRP faces query over spending report

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    Ben Cayetano: “I think it may make people a little more cautious about what they say”

The Pacific Resource Partnership Political Action Committee failed to report that it paid a mainland advertising company more than $86,000 for fliers aimed at helping Mayor Kirk Caldwell and two other Hawaii candidates win election in 2012, according to a complaint against the controversial super PAC.

The complaint was filed by Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao against the PRP PAC and John White, its executive director.

It is one of four complaints alleging campaign violations against the PRP PAC or its successor, Forward Progress, that are being heard by the five-member commission at its meeting Wednesday. A second complaint was filed by former Gov. Ben Caye­tano, and two others were lodged by Maui resident and political activist Karen Chun.

PRP, also known as the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program, is a consortium of union carpenters and independent contractors who set up the PRP PAC as an independent noncandidate committee, meaning it could spend an unlimited amount to advance a person’s candidacy so long as there was no coordination with the candidate.

The PRP PAC was dissolved in January 2013, but the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program has since set up the group Forward Progress as a separate super PAC.

"We’ve been open about our activities and filed our expenditures as required," PRP said in a statement. "We reported literally hundreds of invoices accurately during the 2012 campaign season, and there was one we missed. This was not intentional by any means, and we take full responsibility for our oversight."

Izumi-Nitao, in her filing, said the complaint was filed after her office received anonymously Sept. 5 four 2012 campaign mailers that supported then-state Sen. Carol Fuku­naga’s successful special election campaign for the vacant Hono­lulu City Council 6th District (Makiki-Downtown-Halawa Heights) seat. The commission staff reviewed the PAC’s 2012 reports and found no obvious expenditures for the mailers, Izumi-Nitao’s complaint said.

PRP, in response to Izumi-Nitao’s query, said the expenditures in support of Fuku­naga’s campaign were listed in three invoices with Connecticut-based advertising firm Mission Control Inc. But PRP PAC attorney Leroy Colombe, in his email submittal to the commission, said "It appears we missed inputting" one of the invoices, dated Oct. 11, 2012, for $86,182.69.

The invoice paid for a 74,431-piece mailer identified as "Ino­uye" on behalf of Caldwell at a cost of $44,264.29; two 23,003-piece mailers for Fuku­naga at a cost of $32,928.20; and two 4,730-piece mailers on behalf of Hawaii County Council candidate Vale­rie Poindexter for $8,990.20.

After finishing second to Caye­tano in a three-way preliminary mayoral election in August 2012, Caldwell beat Caye­tano in the face-to-face runoff that November.

Fukunaga won a one-time special election over a number of other candidates to fill the remaining two years of the term vacated by Tulsi Gabbard, who resigned that August to focus on her congressional run. Poindexter went on to win the Hawaii island Council’s 1st District seat (Hilo to Wai­mea).

PRP made payments to Mission Control in 2012 to run other ads involving the Hono­lulu mayor’s race as well as other "Oahu and Big Island" races, but those are not part of the complaint because they were reported. Mission Control’s website describes itself as "one of the premier Demo­cratic mail firms in the country."

In the case involving the $86,000-plus invoice, Izumi-Nitao’s complaint said the PRP PAC failed to report the invoice in its 2012 preliminary general report.

The Cayetano complaint against PRP PAC being considered Wednesday by the commission is an extension of the defamation lawsuit he filed against the group in October 2012 involving its large-scale effort to defeat his campaign for mayor against Caldwell and then-incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle.

The recovery program fund infused $3.6 million into the PRP PAC intended to sway Oahu voters to reject Caye­tano’s 2012 mayoral campaign. The lawsuit filed by Caye­tano against the PAC was settled when PRP agreed to issue a published apology and donate $125,000 to two charities chosen by the former governor.

Cayetano’s complaint with the commission charges the PRP PAC violated campaign laws by scheming to defeat his mayoral candidacy months before it filed its noncandidate committee organizational report, failing to state clearly that expenditures were made to oppose his candidacy, and failing to report a series of expenditures to "major players," including consultants Andrew Winer, Martin Hamburger, Jason Stanford, Ben Tulchin, Barbara Tanabe and Jim McCoy, the latter two doing business as Hoa­kea Communications.

Cayetano’s complaintsays the commission should refer the matter for criminal prosecution for "knowingly and intentionally" falsifying reports with the intent to circumvent the law or deceive the commission, a Class C felony. Caye­tano said his complaint is based on 488 pages of internal emails among PRP officials and their consultants that were obtained during the discovery process of his lawsuit.

Winer, a PRP consultant and Demo­cratic strategist, is now U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s chief of staff. Tulchin is a Cali­for­nia-based pollster, Hamburger is a Washington-based media consultant, Stanford is a researcher and Hoa­kea was a Hono­lulu-based public relations firm.

The third and fourth complaints being heard by the commission Wednesday were filed by Maui political activist Chun separately against the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund and Forward Progress, which PRP/Hawaii Market Recovery Program Fund formed as a independent noncandidate committee after the PRP PAC was disbanded.

The complaint against the market recovery program fund alleges it failed to disclose the original sources of its funding. The complaint against Forward Progress charges that the super PAC lists more than $100,000 in unpaid expenditures in its campaign financing reports without stating precisely which campaign or campaigns the funding is intended to support or oppose.

Much of the expenditures cited by Chun are with Mission Control, the same group that sent fliers for PRP-favored candidates in 2012.

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