The congressional campaign for the late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai has paid out nearly $90,000 for consulting services to a Honolulu firm run by the committee’s treasurer in the 18 months since Takai’s death, with a payment issued as recently as four months ago, federal campaign records show.
Takai died at the age of 49 on July 20, 2016, after battling pancreatic cancer for less than a year.
His re-election campaign, Mark Takai for Congress, issued more than a dozen payments between August 2016 and September 2017 totaling $86,508 to Lanakila Strategies LLC, according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of Federal Election Commission data.
Lanakila Strategies, which registered to do business in the state in 2015, is controlled by Dylan Beesley, who is also listed in campaign finance transaction records as treasurer for the campaign, responsible for authorizing expenditures and depositing receipts.
Beesley is now campaign manager for state Attorney General Douglas Chin, who is running for the late congressman’s U.S. House seat, which is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Reached for comment by phone Wednesday, Beesley requested questions be sent by email. He did not respond to a series of specific questions, including what services were provided for the payments, but emailed a three-paragraph statement Thursday to the Star-Advertiser.
In it he said: “After Congressman Takai passed away, the campaign continues to have surplus funds and filing obligations with the Federal Election Commission.
“It needs some personnel to continue to manage its affairs and meet these and other obligations until it finally disposes of its funds and terminates its registration. The campaign also relies on an outside compliance firm and legal counsel to ensure that we are following the letter of the law.
“Understandably, the Congressman’s family has had other, more pressing matters to deal with as a result of his passing, before they finally decide how to dispose of the campaign’s assets and conclude its activities.”
Before emailing his statement, Beesley had said in an earlier text message that he was attempting to reach Takai’s widow, Sammi, who he said was traveling. The Star-Advertiser could not reach Sammi Takai for comment.
It’s unclear whether the payments or the practice of Beesley making payments to his own company run afoul of any federal campaign spending laws or guidelines. Some political observers said privately that the situation raises red flags because spending of campaign funds generally has to be directly related to campaign activities, and in this case there was no active campaign after Takai announced in May 2016 that he would not seek re-election to a second term because of his health.
Takai’s campaign collected $1.1 million in contributions for his 2016 re-election bid and spent roughly $791,800 through the end of December 2016, FEC records show. The campaign reported just under $400,000 in cash on hand for the reporting period.
An FEC spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether a complaint has been received on the case. The commission can only provide information on resolved complaints; there have been none involving Takai’s campaign since his death.
Under federal rules, a candidate may accept contributions for an election only if he or she seeks office in that election. Takai’s campaign has issued at least $177,000 in contribution refunds to date, filings show.
Takai won election in 2014 to the U.S. House seat that was vacated at the time by Hanabusa, who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate that year. He previously served in the state Legislature for 20 years.
In late 2015 Takai confirmed he had been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove a small tumor in his pancreas. He returned to Congress, began chemotherapy treatment and announced in early 2016 that he would seek re-election to a second term in Congress.
But in May 2016 he reversed those plans and said he would step down at the end of his term after learning the cancer had spread. He died two months later.
The FEC’s press office said it could not comment on specific circumstances or scenarios, but said in general that the Federal Election Campaign Act does allow for campaign funds to be used for noncampaign purposes, including “winding down costs of a federal officeholder’s office for a period of six months after leaving office.”
Other permissible uses for noncampaign purposes include contributions to charitable organizations; unlimited transfers to any national, state or local party committee; and donations to state and local candidates.
Not in good standing
An FEC spokesman added that “payment for a bona fide expense in connection with the operation or winding down of a campaign is permissible as long as the committee pays the ‘usual and normal charge.’” The law defines that term as the commercially reasonable rate prevailing at the time the services were rendered.
Beesley also was a paid consultant prior to Takai’s death.
The campaign paid Lanakila Strategies $47,843 in the first half of 2016 for “strategic and fundraising consulting services.” It also directly paid Beesley $34,600 for “fundraising consulting services” in 2015 and early 2016.
The website for Lanakila Strategies describes the firm as “a full-service, Hawaii-based political consulting firm providing strategic solutions for candidates, companies and causes.” Services offered include “general consulting and campaign management … grassroots organizing, fundraising, direct mail, public relations and public affairs.”
The company, which is registered to a Pukalani address, as of this week was listed as “not in good standing” with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for failure to submit business registration filings for 2016 and 2017.
Beesley has been active in local political campaigns in recent years, according to his LinkedIn professional profile. It says he was chief strategist for Mark Takai for Congress from March 2015 to January 2017; coordinated campaign director for the Democratic Party of Hawaii for a few months; state director for Hillary (Clinton) for America for less than a year; and campaign manager for Tulsi (Gabbard) for Hawaii from May 2014 to December 2014.
TRANSACTIONS AFTER DEATH
In the year and a half since U.S. Rep. K. Mark Takai’s death, the congressman’s re-election campaign has paid close to $90,000 for consulting to Lanakila Strategies LLC, a Honolulu company controlled by Dylan Beesley, who is also listed as the treasurer for the campaign.
DISBURSEMENT DATE DESCRIPTION AMOUNT
9/14/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
8/21/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
7/20/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
6/20/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
5/19/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
4/24/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
3/20/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
2/28/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
1/23/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
1/10/17 Consulting services $5,759.16
12/19/16 Consulting services $11,518.32
10/1/16 Consulting services $11,518.32
8/1/16 Consulting services $5,879.68
TRANSACTIONS BEFORE DEATH
Beesley and his firm also received consulting payments before Takai’s July 2016 death from pancreatic cancer.
DISBURSEMENT DATE DESCRIPTION AMOUNT
7/3/16 Consulting services $9,830.30
6/10/16 Strategic and fundraising consulting services $10,221.52
5/2/16 Strategic and fundraising consulting services $9,729.13
4/4/16 Strategic and fundraising consulting services $9,729.13
3/11/16 Strategic consulting services $4,166.64
3/3/16 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
2/16/16 Strategic consulting services $4,166.64
1/20/16 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
12/15/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
11/20/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
10/19/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
10/1/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
9/1/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
7/21/15 Fundraising consulting services $4,000
7/1/15 Fundraising consulting services $2,600
Source: Federal Election Commission, Mark Takai for Congress