A closer examination of party finances under former chair Jonah Kaauwai shows that the Hawaii Republican Party owes tens of thousand of dollars for unpaid credit card bills and political mailers.

In two years, Kaauwai also took his party from a six-figure balance to nearly $100,000 in the red.

Those details come from federal reports filed monthly by the party, rather than from state reports that follow different reporting requirements.

According to Federal Election Commission records, the state GOP was $94,000 in debt in August 2011, the last full month under Kaauwai’s tenure. The party reported having just $27,200 in cash on hand by the end of the month.

By contrast, in June 2009, Kaauwai’s first full month as party chair — he was elected May 17, 2009 — Republicans owed nothing. In fact, they reported having $163,000 in cash on hand at the beginning of the reporting period.

Party leaders cited party finances as a big reason in calling for the resignation of Kaauwai, who stepped down Monday.

But they’re not releasing details of what the credit cards were used for.

Fast-Growing Debt

The GOP’s debt was accrued suddenly and quickly grew.

It first materialized in a year-end report that covers Nov. 23 through Dec. 31, 2010. It totaled $44,100, and most of it — some $36,000 — was owed to two companies: Arena Communications and Chase Credit Services.

Salt Lake City-based Arena Communications specializes in conservative politics. On its website it boasts of having helped winning campaigns for the likes of George W. Bush, Mitch McConnell and Michele Bachmann.

In January 2011, the Hawaii GOP reported that its debt had grown to $54,500. The largest creditors were the same as before — $21,000 to Arena Communications for design and printing of mailers, and about $15,500 to Chase Card Services for credit card charges.

Those charges aren’t itemized in FEC reports, so there’s no way to tell what the money was spent on.

In April 2011, the top creditors for the debt — now $64,000 — were also Arena and Chase.

Asked about the debt owed to Arena and Chase, Beth Fukumoto, the party’s interim chair, emailed this statement:

“How we got in to debt is part of the past. Our job now is to get out of debt by raising more money and spending it wisely so we have a better future in 2012 and beyond. I have no doubt our party has a bright future.”

Then and Now: Receipts

Civil Beat took a look at the GOP’s finances over the past two years that Kaauwai chaired the state organization, in particular the first full month under Kaauwai’s tenure, and the last.

Kaauwai seemed to be making some headway in raising money. In his first full month on the job, party treasurer Katherine Thomason listed $5,655 in total contributions.

The money came from just eight people — including Nelson Oyadomari, a Gov. Linda Lingle appointee to the Aloha Stadium Authority — as well as interest from the Bank of Hawaii and Central Pacific Bank.

In Kaauwai’s last full month, under treasurer Marcia Klompus, the party received $39,800 — five times what was raised in June 2009.

The money came from more than 100 contributors, and many of their names are well known.

They include Klompus (who was also appointed to the Stadium Authority), former Attorney General Mark Bennett, state Sen. Sam Slom, state Rep. Barbara Marumoto, former lawmaker Cam Cavasso, Hawaii Superferry President and retired Navy Adm. Tom Fargo, Big Island blogger Andrew Walsen, public relations executive Kitty Lagareta and Kaauwai’s interim replacement as chair, Beth Fukumoto.

One political action committee — Djou for Congress — also kicked in $1,500.

Then and Now: Disbursements

But Kaauwai and his staff also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, too, on what the reports document as expenses necessary to run the party.

In June 2009, the GOP spent $48,800. Most of it went to the types of expenses common for political parties: telephones, cable, postage, office supplies, computer databases, parades and food and water for volunteers.

There are also charges for airfare, lodging and rental cars, and salary and payroll taxes. (The party chair is a volunteer position; Kaauwai received no salary.)

In August 2011, the GOP spent $48,200 — a nearly identical amount to 26 months prior. Most of it went to many of the same expenses, but there are also entertainment expenses. No salaries and payroll taxes are listed.

The $93,703 in debt is spread between about a dozen creditors for air fare, sound and video services, direct mail and printing and postage.

But, the single-largest debt owed by the Hawaii Republican Party as of August 2011 is around $19,500 each to Arena Communications and Chase Card Services.

All told, during the 26 months from June 2009 through August 2011, the party paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Chase and other credit card companies.

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