Facing thousands of dollars in additional penalties for breaking state campaign finance laws, Hawaii Rep. Karen Awana stepped down from her House leadership position Friday.
House Speaker Joe Souki accepted her resignation as majority floor leader, effective immediately. But he also assured her that he would give her a new leadership position if she took care of her fines.
“It is my hope that after you reconcile this matter, we are able to move ahead so that you may be named Chair of the newly created Committee on Culture and the Arts & International Affairs in the upcoming legislative session,” Souki said in a letter to Awana.
The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission is scheduled to hear a complaint Wednesday against Awana and Friends of Karen Awana for filing false or inaccurate disclosure reports, making untimely deposits of campaign contributions and failing to keep campaign finance records.
As of late July, she still owed $800 in fines for filing false reports dating back to 2008. The four-term Democrat has $18,477 in her campaign account, which she could have used to pay off the fines months ago.
The commission’s general counsel, Gary Kam, doesn’t understand why she hasn’t rectified the situation. This is the third round of complaints against Awana for similar violations over the past several years.
Awana was fined $6,800 last year for failing to report contributions and expenditures or respond to the commission’s requests for more information. The commission considered criminal action against the repeat offender, but decided to handle it administratively.
Kam warned in July that her lack of response — and a recent discovery of suspicious purchases — was expected to bring additional fines and legal action.
Awana now faces an additional $8,500 penalty for failing to account for 50 expenditures made by her campaign since 2011, Hawaii News Now reported Thursday.
“We trust that people who are elected to office and decide on what the budget is going to be for the state of Hawaii also have their own financial ship in order,” Kam told the TV news station.
Awana has not returned calls seeking comment. She said in her resignation letter to Souki that she appreciated the opportunity to serve on his leadership team, but did not want to be a distraction.
The majority floor leader has better access to the speaker and a stronger voice on the House floor, but is not considered to wield much power. A committee chair, by contrast, can decide if a bill even gets a hearing, potentially killing legislation.
Keeping Awana in a leadership position of any sort, however, could be considered an effort by Souki to retain her support for him to continue serving as speaker. Awana was a supporter of Rep. Calvin Say, who served as House speaker for 14 years until Souki was able to rally enough House Dems to oust Say this past session.
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