Don’t believe the Pacific Resource Partnership only spent $2.8 million trying to sway this year’s elections in its favor.

Although that’s the figure PRP’s political action committee reported to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are still unaccounted for in publicly available records.

This is the case even though campaign spending laws are specifically designed to give citizens a way to find out who’s trying to influence their vote.

There’s also more money being spent by PRP on political advertising than one might expect based on the group’s most recent campaign finance reports.

That’s because the most recent reporting period ended on Oct. 22, meaning that cash spent on any advertisements that run after that won’t appear on PRP’s campaign finance ledger until the next reporting deadline on Dec. 6.

It doesn’t matter that PRP spent the money before Oct. 22. It’s just the way Hawaii’s law is written.

Civil Beat recently analyzed the amount of money PRP reported spending on television advertising during the current election season. There appeared to be a difference between what was in PRP’s campaign finance reports and what the group was actually spending with local television stations.

We cross-referenced PRP’s itemized campaign spending expense reports with contracts and ledgers obtained from local TV stations — Hawaii News Now, KHON and KITV — and Oceanic Time Warner Cable.

These documents are required to be made public under Federal Communications Commission rules, and Civil Beat has been tracking them as part of our ongoing project — The Public File — that keeps a tally of all the television advertising dollars being spent on local elections.

What we found is that PRP told the Campaign Spending Commission that it spent around $1.1 million on television advertising from Jan. 1 to Oct. 22. But that amount falls short when compared to the information we gathered from the TV stations. According to those documents, PRP spent more than $2 million on advertising.

PRP refused to comment for this story or answer questions about the reports. PRP also refused to share any of its records that might explain the discrepancies.

One reason may be a provision in Hawaii’s campaign spending law that says “an expenditure is deemed to be made or incurred when the services are rendered or the product is delivered.”

Essentially this means if an ad didn’t run before the Oct. 22 campaign finance filing deadline it didn’t need to be reported.

PRP also has a non-political arm called I Mua Rail that isn’t required to report how much it spends on advertising as long as it doesn’t support a specific candidate.

Even though rail is a central theme in the Honolulu mayor’s race between Kirk Caldwell and Ben Cayetano, the pro-rail group’s spending doesn’t fall under the purview of the Campaign Spending Commission because its not considered advocating for a candidate.

And while most TV stations differentiate between PRP’s I Mua Rail ads and those that were clearly identified as political, at least one ledger from Hawaii News Now showed this money had been intermingled.

This discrepancy is just one example of the difficulties in tracking the flow of political money through the TV stations.

Civil Beat’s review also revealed that relying on paper documents stored in a station’s public files can open the floodgates to miscalculations and unchecked spending.

Inconsistencies in organization, constantly modified contracts, reprinted documents and the inevitable unpredictability of TV scheduling made tabulating the amount PRP paid for its political time difficult.

What this all means for residents is that it can be confusing to see who’s actually trying to influence their votes, and whether those individuals or groups are following the rules that have been put in place.

It’s become all the more difficult after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling that stripped away campaign spending restrictions and certain reporting requirements for third-party groups, such as PRP.

Although PRP isn’t the only culprit — there are other outside groups spending lots of money on campaigns in Hawaii and elsewhere — it’s a good example of the current state of affairs.

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