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A former campaign manager for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was one of several consultants working on the Pacific Resource Partnership’s 2012 political takedown of former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Caldwell and Cayetano were opponents that year in a hotly contested race for the mayor’s office, and PRP’s super PAC was doing all it could to make sure that it was Caldwell and not Cayetano who moved into Honolulu Hale by painting the former governor as corrupt.
At stake was the city’s $5.2 billion rail project that PRP, a pro-union construction group representing carpenters and contractors, wanted to keep alive in the face of Cayetano’s persistent threats to kill it.
Questions were raised during the 2012 campaign about whether there had been any coordination between Caldwell and PRP, something that would have violated state campaign spending law.
Recently released emails along with an analysis of Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission data show an even closer connection between Caldwell and PRP than previously known, although a representative for the mayor says there was no coordination between the two camps.
“PRP was something that was going on that we were not in a position to encourage or influence and we really didn’t,” said Lex Smith, who chairs Caldwell’s campaign committee.
In 2010, Caldwell paid more than $110,000 to Kimberly Devlin for consulting services on his bid to become Honolulu’s mayor. Caldwell was acting mayor at the time, filling in for Mufi Hannemann, who had resigned to run for governor.
Two years later, Devlin was working for PRP as a paid consultant. Campaign spending data shows PRP paid her $5,000 to help out with the campaign against Cayetano.
Internal PRP emails show Devlin was involved with PRP after the August 2012 primary, when the field had been narrowed to Caldwell and Cayetano.
On Oct. 9, 2012, Devlin sent an email to three of PRP’s public relations consultants, Jim McCoy, Barbara Tanabe and Kris Tanahara, saying she was “on the ground in Honolulu” and would be in town through the November election.
Copied on that email were PRP executive director John White and consultant Andy Winer, who is now U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s chief of staff, and in 2012 was helping to get Mazie Hirono elected to the Senate.
Devlin’s email was the beginning of a string related to upcoming attacks on Cayetano and Honolulu City Council candidate Tom Berg, both of whom were in opposition to rail.
The plan was to paint both Berg and Cayetano, a life-long Democrat, as aligned with Republicans.
“Because we have will have new TV and radio ads and at least 9 mailers between now and eday, John wants all hands on deck to strategize on press,” Devlin said in her Oct. 9 email. “He has asked Kris to be part of that strategic team so going forward please include Kris on all emails dealing with press or press requests.”
It’s unclear from the emails just how involved Devlin was in PRP’s operations. Neither Devlin nor PRP representatives returned phone calls seeking comment.
Devlin, a mainland consultant from Texas, had worked in Hawaii politics before. In the early 2000s she helped majority Hawaii Democrats undermine Republican attempts to gain traction at the Capitol.
In 2010, she pulled double-duty working for Caldwell and the Citizens for Responsive Government PAC that was originally formed with the intent to elect Democrats to the Hawaii House.
The PAC, which was closely tied to then-House Speaker Calvin Say, paid Devlin $11,000 for consulting services.
Devlin had other clients as well, most notably Peter Carlisle in 2012. Carlisle was the incumbent mayor trying to stave off a challenge from Caldwell and Cayetano. Carlisle was eliminated from contention in the primary.
Campaign spending records show he had hired Devlin for $2,500 to help advise his campaign.
Carlisle told Civil Beat he did not remember Devlin working on his re-election campaign. His former managing director, Doug Chin, who was also involved on the campaign, said there was no indication before the August primary that she was also working for PRP.
Hawaii campaign spending law does not allow coordination between candidates and super PACs — also known as independent expenditure committees — which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
PRP was Hawaii’s first true, high-powered super PAC in the sense that no one had ever seen such a well-funded, sophisticated operation working in the isles.
The group spent spent more than $3.6 million in its efforts to keep Cayetano out of office. But the deluge of money and negative ads brought a lot of questions about whether PRP was following the rules.
For instance, in September 2012, PRP ran a TV ad using footage of Caldwell, which raised questions about coordination between the campaigns.
The video PRP used came from The Hamburger Company, a Washington D.C.-based advertising firm owned by Martin Hamburger, that Caldwell had used in 2010.
PRP had hired The Hamburger Company in 2012 as part of its campaign against Cayetano. Caldwell’s campaign said at the time that PRP and The Hamburger Company used the footage without the candidate’s permission.
“I was assigned to get that back once the campaign was over,” Smith said. “I had to contact the guy and tell him we wanted the film back and that we wanted control over the use of the mayor’s likeness.”
(Correction: An earlier version of this story included a longer quote from Smith that said he did not get the Caldwell footage back from The Hamburger Company. After the article published, he told Civil Beat that he had, in fact, received the footage.)
Smith added that Caldwell made a conscious decision after his failed 2010 campaign to stop using mainland consultants for future elections.
“I think he was much happier with the way that the campaign went in 2012 than he was in 2010,” Smith said. “If nothing else you could see the result and see why.”
A cloud of suspicion still lingers over PRP and its operations during the 2012 election, much of it due to the secrecy surrounding the organization’s tactics.
The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission launched an investigation into PRP’s spending after Civil Beat reported last month that some of the group’s main political consultants did not appear in paperwork that is required to be filed with the oversight agency.
Gary Kam, an attorney for the commission, said that investigation is ongoing and that if any violations are found, PRP will be fined. Kam said he’s been working with PRP’s attorneys on resolving any issues related to proper reporting, and that he’s received “complete cooperation.”
Part of the investigation, he said, involves determining whether PRP’s consultants were doing political or educational activities.
In addition to the attacks on Cayetano, PRP launched an educational campaign called I Mua Rail that was designed to increase public support for the $5.2 billion project.
Since rail was not on the ballot, the Campaign Spending Commission did not have jurisdiction over I Mua Rail activities.
Kam said he expects his investigation into PRP to be completed by the end of the month.