UPDATED 7/23/11 9:35 a.m.

What began this spring as a dispute between a lawmaker and the man she hired to build her website has taken a new, possibly far more serious turn.

Eric Ryan has alleged publicly that state Rep. Kymberly Pine owes him “thousands of dollars” for producing campaign materials.

On Friday morning, Ryan put forth a new story.

He now argues on his KymPineIsACrook website that Pine, a Republican, paid him $3,150 to produce a sensationalist campaign mailer that attacked a prospective opponent in the 2010 Democratic primary — an act that might have violated campaign spending laws.

Candidates are not allowed to spend campaign money to oppose a candidate they’re not facing. Ryan links to documents on his website that he believes back up his claim.

Yet, Ryan himself may also have violated state campaign spending laws. Ryan says the $3,150 went to a non-candidate committee controlled by Ryan called Save Ewa Beach. The group’s name and address were printed on the campaign mailer. Nobody can give more than $1,000 to a non-candidate committee in an election. Instead of a donation from Studio Ryan or Friends of Kymberly Pine of $3,150, the committee received three $1,000 donations — from Ryan, his wife and his mother.

On Friday afternoon, Ryan told Civil Beat that the reports filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission are wrong. He says it was Pine or her campaign treasurer that did the reporting.

Pine Won’t Comment on New Charges

Pine was asked by Civil Beat about the new allegations Friday, but she declined to comment directly.

Instead, she sent Civil Beat an email identical to the one she sent in response to questions Monday for a related story:

“I am working in full cooperation with law enforcement officials to bring this man to justice. The issue is currently under investigation, and I hope it can be handled civilly and respectfully in a court of law.

“It’s unfortunate that a single person can so easily attempt to extort money through constant threats, lies and harassment.

“I will not stand by and allow Mr. Ryan continue to try to hurt my family and my family name in order to make money he is not owed.

“Mr. Ryan did some basic website work for me in the past and I have all of my documentation showing I paid him in full. When I refused to keep him on as my web designer until 2012 or endorse him so he could get more clients, he demanded more money, hijacked my campaign and legislative websites and launched his campaign of harassment.”

UPDATE Late Friday, Pine referred Civil Beat to a statement attributed to Ryan about the independence of Save Ewa Beach from September 2010 reported in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Political Radar blog.

“As a registered non-candidate committee, Save Ewa Beach is completely
independent from both parties, independent from candidates (some of
whom I’ve actually done design work for), and independent from other
groups and organizations. It’s something I think I’ll keep ramped up
for as long as I live in Ewa, which should be forever.”

Checks, Lies and Candidates

Ryan’s contention — as detailed on his website and reiterated in interviews with Civil Beat — is that Pine is lying and that the media (including Civil Beat) have been misled by Pine.

The website is also highly critical of Honolulu Councilman Tom Berg, who fired Ryan last week for, in Berg’s view, not doing his work as chief of staff. Ryan says he was fired for blowing the whistle on Berg’s “overt waste, fraud and abuse.”

The Berg-Ryan matter aside, here’s what Civil Beat has now been able to piece together regarding the Pine-Ryan matter:

• The organization Friends of Kymberly Pine wrote a check for $3,150 to Studio Ryan, the web design company owned by Eric Ryan, on Sept. 4, 2010.

• Pine’s campaign spending report for Sept. 4 to Sept. 18 shows $3,150 in “media work” paid to Studio Ryan.

• Save Ewa Beach reports contributions totaling $3,000 from three Ryans at the same address: Eric, Susan and Linda. (Eric Ryan says they are his wife and mother, respectively.) A fourth contributor, Stephen Carroll of Ewa Beach, chips in $500. All four checks come in on Sept. 13. No mention is made of contributions by Pine or her committee.

• Ryan’s Save Ewa Beach expenditure report for Sept. 4 to Sept. 18 shows a payment of $1,505 to print a campaign postcard on Sept. 6 and $1,766 to mail the postcard — a total of $3,271. Ryan says this is where Pine’s $3,150 went, and says he picked up the remainder of the expenses.

• Ryan produced a bright yellow postcard warning District 43 voters to vote for Kurt Fevella over Jason Bradshaw in the 2010 Democratic primary on Sept. 18. The postcard was paid for by Save Ewa Beach and stated, among many other things, “The Gay lobby and Democrat Progressives endorsed Jason Bradshaw for being for Gay Marriage and abortion.”

• On primary day, Bradshaw defeated Fevella by a 2-to-1 margin; incumbent Pine was unopposed in the Republican primary. (Pine went on to defeat Bradshaw by a 2-to-1 margin in the Nov. 2 general election.)

• Ryan’s Save Ewa Beach contributions report for Sept. 19 to Oct. 18 shows that the non-candidate committee received another $1,000 apiece from Eric, Susan and Linda Ryan, giving each of the three an aggregate contribution of $2,000. According to state law, contributions to a non-candidate committee cannot exceed more than $1,000 in one election.

What Ryan Says

Ryan says the $3,150 went to pay for the anti-Bradshaw mailer and he points to the timeline to underscore his argument.

“Kym, I believe, snowed every reporter in town into believing that she paid me in full with that single check, and I think I have demonstrated that that check could have only paid for one thing because I was not hired to work for her until three weeks later,” he told Civil Beat.

Ryan described Pine as being fearful of Bradshaw’s candidacy, and so she not only paid for the mailer but wrote and edited it.

“She panicked,” he said. “She had never had a decent candidate before, and she wanted this to not have her fingerprints on it.

Ryan continued: “The idea was to weaken him going into the general.”

Why, then, is Pine’s check for $3,150 not reported on the campaign spending filings for Save Ewa Beach?

In Save Ewa Beach’s organizational report, Ryan is listed as the chair, the treasurer and the sole custodian of books and accounts. There are no deputy chairs or deputy treasurers. Yet Ryan told Civil Beat that he left it to Pine and her campaign treasurer to fill in the forms, having provided them the login information and password.

“She asked me to set up things but she took care of reporting them,” he said, explaining that, as a lawmaker, she was familiar with the process. “I assumed they had taken care of everything.”

UPDATE Ryan admitted that the filing is in error, and said he would amend the report on Monday. He said he had been contacted about the report by a Campaign Spending Commission employee. Civil Beat left a message with the employee Friday afternoon, but it was not returned.

Section 11-412 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes establishes dramatic penalties for those who deliberately flout the law: “Any person who knowingly or intentionally falsifies any report required by this part with the intent to circumvent the law or deceive the commission … shall be guilty of a class C felony.”

What the Law Says

It is unclear whether Kymberly Pine paid Eric Ryan to discredit Jason Bradshaw.

But, in addition to the law limiting non-candidate contributions (noted above), these state laws may be relevant:

§11-382 Campaign funds shall not be used to support the campaigns of candidates other than the candidate with which they are directly associated, to campaign against any other candidate not directly opposing the candidate with which they are directly associated; or for personal expenses.

§11-391 Any advertisement shall contain: (1) The name and address of the candidate, candidate committee, noncandidate committee, or other person paying for the advertisement; and (2) A notice in a prominent location stating either that: (A) The advertisement is published, broadcast, televised, or circulated with the approval and authority of the candidate; provided that an advertisement paid for by a candidate, candidate committee, or ballot issue committee does not need to include the notice; or (B) The advertisement is published, broadcast, televised, or circulated without the approval and authority of the candidate. (b) The fine for violation of this section, if assessed by the commission, shall not exceed $25 for each advertisement that lacks the information required by this section, and shall not exceed an aggregate amount of $5,000. [L 2010, c 211, pt of §2]

There are other relevant campaign spending laws as well, including ones regarding coordinated activity and electioneering communications.

Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission, said violations of §11-391 “happen a lot” and that the fines can range between $25 and $5,000.

“Usually it’s only $25, but it depends,” she explained.

As for §11-382, Izumi-Nitao said violations were “not common,” but that arguments could be made for valid use of campaign funds depending on specific circumstances.

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