Former Gov. Ben Cayetano is getting the apology he’s been waiting on for nearly two years. It’s also coming with two checks worth a total of $125,000.
On Friday, Cayetano announced that he has settled his libel and slander lawsuit against the Pacific Resource Partnership, a nonprofit that launched a negative ad campaign against the former governor in 2012 when he was running for Honolulu mayor.
Part of that settlement, which attorneys say is confidential, includes a provision that PRP run an apology in the Star-Advertiser and give $100,000 to the University of Hawaii and $25,000 to the Hawaiian Humane Society in Cayetano’s name.
Nick Grube/Civil Beat
“The governor is satisfied with the settlement and is confident it will restore his good name,” said Jim Bickerton, Cayetano’s attorney in the case.
Bickerton said PRP’s apology will run in the Sunday edition of the Star-Advertiser. It will also run again later in the week.
The ad is a one-page letter from PRP Executive Director John White to Cayetano. It’s not long, only four sentences, but it does indicate PRP went too far in its attacks on the former governor.
“Governor Cayetano believes that these radio and television advertisements gave many the impression that Gov. Cayetano personally had broken the law or acted corruptly,” White’s letter states. “To the extent any viewer or listener reached that conclusion, PRP apologizes to Gov. Cayetano. PRP commends Gov. Cayetano for his long record of public service to the State of Hawaii.”
PRP attorney Jeff Portnoy told Civil Beat he couldn’t comment on any specifics of the settlement because of a confidentiality clause, and said the newspaper ad is the gist of the agreement.
“It was the result of long and arduous negotiations,” Portnoy said. “I think that everybody thought that it was just in everyone’s best interest to resolve the dispute and that’s all I can say.”
PRP formed an independent expenditure committee to take down Cayetano in the 2012 election because he had promised to dismantle the city’s $5.26 billion rail project if elected. PRP is a labor partnership between the Hawaii Carpenters Union and the contractors who its members work for, so the group had a vested interest in making sure rail stayed on track.
PRP spent more than $3.6 million trying to make sure Cayetano did not beat then-incumbent Peter Carlisle or eventual winner Kirk Caldwell, both of whom supported the project. All the money came from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund.
PRP’s tactics included running radio and TV ads accusing Cayetano of “pay-for-play” politics while he was governor and accepting more than $500,000 in illegal campaign donations when running for his second term against Republican Linda Lingle.
While the allegations were largely discredited by the media and former Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Bob Watada, PRP continued to run the ads.
“I brought this suit to improve the climate for elected public servants throughout the state.” — Former Gov. Ben Cayetano
Cayetano filed his defamation lawsuit against PRP just weeks before the 2012 general election.
He said it was his way of standing up to the big money interests that had taken root in the political system ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed unlimited spending on candidate campaigns.
Cayetano said at the time that he also hoped to pull back the curtain on PRP, naming its trustees in his initial complaint as well as others who helped spread its messages.
In a statement issued by his attorney, Cayetano reiterated that he did not file the lawsuit for his own political purposes and that he didn’t do it for his own “political future.”
“I brought this suit to improve the climate for elected public servants throughout the state,” Cayetano said. “Where will our future leaders come from and why would young people even think about a career as an elected official if even a former Governor can be smeared so easily with impunity?”
Cayetano also said the ads that were launched against him were designed by “very sophisticated mainland operatives” and that he hopes the settlement will discourage them from working in Hawaii in the future.
Some of the groups PRP paid to help in its campaign included Tulchin Research, a polling and political consulting firm in San Francisco, and the Washington, D.C.- based Hamburger Company, which describes itself as a messaging company.