The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission is taking an interest in the Pacific Resource Partnership and whether it violated any laws during the 2012 mayoral campaign.

Recently released emails show how PRP and its consultants worked to undermine the campaign of former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, who was running for mayor on a platform to kill the city’s $5.26 billion rail project.

Among the revelations was that PRP was working on its campaign several months before officially forming its political action committee, doing opposition research and poll testing future attack ad messages.

HART construction column Kapolei  June 2014

Honolulu rail construction near Kapolei on June 5.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Civil Beat reported that several of PRP’s political strategists and public relations specialists who were heavily involved in the efforts to weaken Cayetano did not appear in any of the PAC’s campaign spending reports.

Campaign Spending Commission Attorney Gary Kam said his agency is now looking into the “apparent vendors” who did not appear in PRP’s finance reports. He declined to go into specifics.

They include Texas-based opposition researcher Jason Stanford; Barbara Tanabe and Jim McCoy, who worked for Hoakea Communications at the time; and Andy Winer, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s chief of staff, who in 2012 was working on U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono’s campaign.

PRP is a consortium of union carpenters and contractors that advocates for projects to benefit its membership. The group is a major supporter of the rail project.

In 2012, PRP launched a major campaign against Cayetano in the mayoral election that included a deluge of negative advertising. Campaign Spending Commission reports show the group spent more than $3.6 million in the election.

The group slammed him for receiving $540,000 in illegal donations 12 years earlier during the 1998 gubernatorial election, in which he defeated Republican Linda Lingle.

Cayetano was never accused of wrongdoing because it was the contributors who had given fake names to skirt donor limits. He also said he had no idea the contributions were illegal.

PRP’s ad campaign tried to tie these donations to no-bid contracts that were awarded to some of the contributors during Cayetano’s administration, describing it as a “pay-to-play” scheme.

The group also attacked Cayetano for not paying back the full $540,000 in contributions. By the time the donations were found to be illegal, Cayetano only had about $8,000 left in his campaign coffers. He paid that amount back and closed his campaign committee, meaning he didn’t have to pay back the remainder.

When he decided to run for mayor in 2012 he opened a new campaign committee. PRP pushed the idea that Cayetano should still be on the hook for the illegal donations he received more than a decade before, saying he found a “loophole” in the law.

Cayetano filed a defamation lawsuit against PRP in October 2012, weeks before the general election. The case settled the week of June 13.

PRP’s Executive Director John White agreed to run a half-page apology to Cayetano in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on two separate days.

The group also agreed to pay $100,000 to the University of Hawaii medical school and $25,000 to the Hawaiian Humane Society.

White did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

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