When the Pacific Resource Partnership began its work to keep former Gov. Ben Cayetano from becoming Honolulu’s next mayor, it was a campaign unlike any seen before in local politics.

The group formed an independent expenditure committee — or super PAC — that spent millions of dollars on attack ads, mailers and ground troops to smear Cayetano and promote Honolulu’s $5.26 billion rail project as well as the candidates who supported it.

But throughout the 2012 campaign, little was known about PRP aside from the fact that it was linked to the Hawaii Carpenters Union and that it was clearly taking advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allowed outside groups to funnel unlimited amounts of cash into political efforts.

But tax forms filed with the IRS are now providing a clearer picture of how much PRP actually invested in 2012 to keep rail on track and Cayetano out of Honolulu Hale.

Hey Big Spender

PRP’s funding came through the Hawaii Carpenter Market Recovery Program Fund, which works to promote economic development for the state’s carpenters. But not all of the spending was documented with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

IRS tax records show the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund spent nearly $7 million between Sept. 1, 2011 and Aug. 31, 2012, a figure that included everything from salaries and benefits to political expenses.

The filing is the latest IRS tax form available for the fund, and it doesn’t include spending between the August 2012 primary and the November general election, when PRP was most politically active.

Civil Beat asked PRP Executive Director John White for the latest tax filings covering the 2012 General Election, but has not received a response. White, who is also listed as the executive director of the Recovery Fund, also declined to be interviewed but told Civil Beat in an email he likely wouldn’t respond to questions about PRP’s “internal decisions.”

Even without the general election tallies, the Recovery Fund’s spending was higher than it was in previous years in key areas, including politics and advertising.

The tax forms show about $1.48 million went toward “political expenditures,” which includes direct contributions to candidates. The recovery fund also spent $1.66 million on advertising and $1.8 million on other expenses that are not detailed in the documents.

The Recovery Fund reported spending only about $1 million combined in those three categories from Sept. 1, 2009 to Aug. 31, 2011.

PRP’s Direct Payments

Most of the group’s political expenditures went to political advertising, polling and door-to-door canvassing, the records show.

Direct contributions to candidates only accounted for $37,525. Forty local politicians benefitted from the fund’s political activity, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who is now in the U.S. Senate.

The fund gave directly to several legislators and local city council members as well. For example, Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who was a pro-rail candidate running against an anti-rail incumbent, got $4,000, which was the most of any candidate listed in the tax forms.

The fund also gave more than $115,000 to various groups and nonprofits, including the Democratic Party of Hawaii, Move Oahu Forward and the University of Hawaii Foundation. Other groups receiving donations included the Friends of Kapolei Hale, the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, Blue Planet Foundation and the Hawaii Home Ownership Center.

The largest donation of $60,500 was given the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, which is headed by Abercrombie’s campaign chairman Bill Kaneko.

Kaneko told Civil Beat that much of that money, $50,000, was spent on a study of the state’s long-term infrastructure needs. He said it piggybacks off a previous study by the nonprofit that looked at Hawaii’s infrastructure shortcomings.

“PRP supported that because they’re in the construction business,” Kaneko said. “This is clearly a nexus to their core mission.”

Dipping Into Reserves

The tax filings show the Recovery Fund spent nearly three times what it raised. The fund only pulled down about $2.3 million from membership contributions and investment income and spent nearly $7 million.

But the filings show the fund had other assets, in particular its publicly traded securities investments. According to the forms, this investment account dipped from $12 million to $9 million between reporting periods. The fund was also left with total assets of about $12.8 million after Aug. 31, 2012.

The tax forms don’t show any money coming from outside groups.

Read the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund’s latest tax form here:

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