- Special Projects
Last week, residents of east Honolulu found flyers in their mailboxes attacking Honolulu City Council District 4 candidate Tommy Waters as being a “carpetbagger.”
Curiously, no one has acknowledged being responsible for the ad’s message — not even representatives of the super PAC that paid for it.
The term dates back to the years following the Civil War when northerners moved down South to capitalize on the political and economic turbulence of the region and is commonly invoked to refer to political candidates who relocate to an area just to run for office.
“CAUTION!” read the flyers in all black caps. “Tommy Waters is just another politician looking for an office to hold and he is willing to move around the island to win that office.”
Waters moved to Kahala Towers earlier this year from Kailua, but told Civil Beat that he has lived in the district off and on for about 30 years — most of his life. Waters is 49.
“This is where I grew up, this is where I wanted to raise my family and it is what I am familiar with and where my friends live,” he said.
Waters’ supporters are calling the flyers dirty politics and raising questions about whether Water’s opponent, Trevor Ozawa, had anything to do with the mailers, which would be a violation of campaign spending laws.
That’s because the ads were paid for by Hawaii Solutions, a super PAC, founded in 2011 by Dylan Nonaka, a former executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party. Super PACS are allowed to spend unlimited funds in political races, but are legally barred from colluding with candidates on their campaigns.
While there are no direct ties between Hawaii Solutions and Ozawa’s campaign, Ozawa hired Nonaka’s political consulting company, The Kahua Group, back in July, campaign spending records show.
“When you have someone who you have retained as a consultant, in the case of Dylan Nonaka, and you are coordinating things with him and talking about your campaign and your timeline and strategy with him using his Kahua Group hat, and then he goes and takes off that hat and puts on his Hawaii Solutions hat, how is that not coordination?” said Bart Dame, a Democratic Party activist.
It’s notoriously hard to prove coordination between a campaign and a super PAC. Tony Baldomero, associate director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said that making that link would likely require more evidence.
While Ozawa has pushed the storyline with the media that Waters doesn’t have deep roots in the district, pointing out his recent arrival in Kahala, he was quick to distance himself from the flyers, calling them “pilau politics.”
“Our campaign has absolutely no affiliation with this advertiser,” wrote Ozawa in an email to constituents. “I am very upset at this committee, Hawaii Solutions, because of their inconsideration for the integrity of both our campaign and our opponent’s.”
In an interview with Civil Beat, Ozawa said that he was “shocked” by the ads. He said his campaign paid Nonaka’s Kahua Group $312.50 back in July for help with graphics. He said his campaign hasn’t paid The Kahua Group anything beyond that.
UPDATE: The Ozawa campaign has paid The Kahua Group $312.50 as a monthly retainer for work starting in May and will continue the payments through October, according to information provided by the campaign after this story was published.
The most recent campaign spending reports, dating from Aug. 10, won’t be released until next week.
As the general election approaches, it’s not surprising to see some 11th-hour attacks.
But most peculiar about the carpetbagger flyers is that, when contacted by Civil Beat, officials at Hawaii Solutions said they weren’t familiar with the ads. Civil Beat also got conflicting information as to whether Nonaka was still involved with the independent expenditure committee.
Nonaka isn’t listed on Hawaii Solutions’ organizational chart, which is filed with the campaign spending commission. However, he helped found the committee in 2011 to support Republican and conservative candidates who are “outgunned” by Hawaii’s dominant Democratic Party. At the time, Nonaka was Hawaii Solution’s strategy director.
“I see Hawaii Solutions as a critical step toward leveling the playing field,” Nonaka wrote in an announcement of the super PAC. “Through Hawaii Solutions we will have the ability to match the unlimited amount of money spent by special interests on our state elections as long as we do not coordinate our efforts with candidates or their campaigns.”
Ozawa’s campaign manager, Kekoa McClellan, said that Nonaka hasn’t been affiliated with Hawaii Solutions for “some years.”
Nonaka told Civil Beat that he “was never like an official person on the organizational reports.”
“I still know the folks involved and stuff, but once the campaigns begin and I start to work on campaigns there can’t be any coordination,” he said. “So I don’t get involved in any of that.”
He said that he was last involved with Hawaii Solutions last year during its efforts to derail gay marriage during the special legislative session called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
However, Hawaii Solution’s treasurer, Earle Kealoha, told Civil Beat that Nonaka was still involved with the committee and was its vice president. Upon request, he provided Civil Beat with Nonaka’s email address: email@example.com
Asked to explain the discrepancy, Nonaka suggested that Kealoha must have been confused. “He’s not a media guy,” Nonaka said.
In addition to confusion about Nonaka’s role in Hawaii Solutions, Civil Beat also struggled to get answers as to why the ads were sent out in the first place. After all, Ozawa notes he is a Democrat and Hawaii Solutions has a history of supporting conservative candidates.
Kealoha said that as treasurer he paid for the flyers, but wasn’t involved in creating their content and didn’t know what spurred them.
“I just write the checks,” he said.
Jose Perez, who is listed as chairperson of Hawaii Solutions on documents filed with the campaign spending commission, also said he didn’t know anything about the ads. But perhaps more surprising, Perez said he wasn’t the committee’s chairperson and wasn’t familiar with Hawaii Solutions.
“I don’t know exactly what that is,” he told Civil Beat. “I don’t know exactly what you are talking about.”
Baldomero, of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said that a super PAC is required to update its commission filings within 10 days if there are any changes in the committee’s members.
So who planned and designed the carpetbagger flyers?
Even though Nonaka said he’s not affiliated with Hawaii Solutions anymore, he said he might know. He pointed to Harvey Harlowe Hukari, who he described as a political consultant for Hawaii Solutions.
Hukari didn’t respond to an email from Civil Beat. Nonaka said he would have Hukari call, but he hasn’t. He is believed to be in the San Francisco Bay area, said Kealoha.
Civil Beat did find Hukari’s Facebook page, however, which includes pictures of him posing with well known Hawaii Republican candidates, including former Gov. Linda Lingle and Hawaii Sen. Sam Slom.
Ozawa told Civil Beat that he has no idea why Hawaii Solutions would target his opponent Waters, especially since he himself is a Democrat.
“Obviously, it wasn’t for me,” Ozawa said. “It’s not pro-me in any way. It is actually a negative for me.”
Ozawa opined that maybe Waters had made some enemies during his six years serving in the state House of Representatives.
“When my opponent was in office, who knows what he did or what allies he had or issues that went one way or the other,” Ozawa said. “I have no idea. There is definitely no connection to our campaign . . . it seems as if somebody is against him for some reason.”
Waters called the flyers “bizarre.”
“The only person saying that I am not from the district is my opponent. So it’s like, OK,” Waters said. “But I take what (Ozawa) says at face value that he has nothing to do with it.”