The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission decided Thursday to give attorneys more time to reach a settlement before determining whether state Rep. Romy Cachola improperly used his campaign funds.

The commission’s executive director, Kristin Izumi-Nitao, filed a complaint May 7 against the longtime Democratic politician after struggling since February to get an explanation from him about dozens of expenses.

A staff investigation revealed purchases — including more than $9,000 for food and beverages, a $30,000 Nissan Pathfinder and almost $22,000 for expenses related to the vehicle over the past six years — that the commission believes were often personal and not for the campaign.

Michael Green answers questions

Honolulu attorney Michael Green answers questions from reporters on behalf of his client, Rep. Romy Cachola, Thursday at the Leiopapa Kamehameha Building.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The complaint recommends that the five-member commission order Cachola to reimburse his campaign committee more than $64,000 for all the non-campaign related expenses and fine him almost $4,000 for three counts of violating the law.

The commission’s general counsel, Gary Kam, said attorneys from both sides are trying to agree on what portion of the total Cachola should have to repay, and the fine would be 25 percent of that amount.

Cachola has already reimbursed his campaign $12,700 to resolve some of the concerns over the use of the vehicle and $2,000 for other expenses, Kam said.

But his attorney, Michael Green, said there are still questions over expenses that fall in a gray area of the law.

State Rep. Romy Cachola

Hawaii state Rep. Romy Cachola, D-Sand Island, Kapalama, Kalihi Kai.

Cachola campaign photo

“A lot of it is not black and white and that’s why we’re in discussions,” Green told reporters after the commission deferred the matter to its July 31 meeting.

“I don’t think it’s a sense where all of a sudden he went on vacation with his family and decided that it was all for political reasons because they sat around the pool drinking stuff with little umbrellas in it talking about politics in Hawaii. It’s not that issue.”

It’s more about how often he used the vehicle for campaign purposes and determining what expenses are allowable, Green said.

“It’s a wake-up call for everybody,” he added.

Green wouldn’t go so far as to say Cachola has admitted to doing anything “wrong” — the attorney said that’s a word that should be “massaged a little bit” — but he said Cachola should have kept better records and has accepted responsibility for that. 

Cachola’s campaign spending reports show he made 40 expenditures to people totaling $2,774 for “public relations” between January 2011 and December 2013, including $50 to Rep. Rida Cabanilla on Jan. 29, 2012.

The reports show he spent $9,194 on “food and beverages” during the same period at places ranging from Zippy’s and Little Village to Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the Honolulu Country Club.

Cachola was a Honolulu City Council member from 2000 until he returned to the House in 2012. He is unopposed in his bid for re-election this fall.

Campaign Spending Commission and Michael Green

Honolulu attorney Michael Green, left, answers questions from the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission on behalf of his client, Rep. Romy Cachola, on Thursday.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

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