Two weeks ago, Honolulu attorney Megan Kau launched a super PAC and website attacking former state Sen. Clayton Hee, who is running for governor this fall.
But voters won’t know the source of the money behind the political action committee or how much she is spending trying to smear the candidate over 30-year-old domestic violence allegations before absentee ballots go out for the Democratic primary.
The next campaign finance filing deadline is not until Aug. 1 for super PACs, independent political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions as long as it does not coordinate with any candidate’s campaign.
That leaves the public in the dark for the duration of that reporting period, which covers Jan. 1 to July 27 – two weeks before the Aug. 11 election.
Kau, a former Honolulu city prosecutor, formed the super PAC on March 14 after learning from friends that Hee’s divorce included a series of allegations related to domestic violence.
She created a website, Women Against Domestic Violence Hawaii, with money from the super PAC by the same name. The site links to a dozen court filings from Hee’s 1988 divorce from Lyla Berg. The website notes verbal and physical abuse, infidelity and how Hee “lived off her assets and absconded with her money.”
Hee has denied all of the allegations and there are no records of any related arrests.
For her part, Berg has said she’s not behind the website. In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she said, “If I wanted to say something, I would have said it 30 years ago.”
Kau said she has limited political experience. She last worked as a treasurer for Kevin Takata’s unsuccessful campaign in 2012 to unseat Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro.
Her reasons for forming the PAC are purely personal. She said she recently had a “me too” experience, referring to the national #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. She declined to discuss the details.
She also said she doesn’t have any major funding yet for her super PAC.
“I’m not affiliated with anybody and I’m not connected to anybody at all,” Kau said.
She added that even though the PAC’s website only targets Hee at this point, the tone and target could change should she or anyone else uncover pertinent information.
“It’s not just Clayton,” Kau said. “If I had any additional information for somebody else that did something I would want to publish that information as well.”
Three years ago the Legislature added a reporting deadline for non-candidate committees, such as super PACs, to help improve transparency between the primary and general elections. But lawmakers did not address filing deadlines for reports before the primary.
Corie Tanida, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a good-government group, said her predecessor and others fought hard to secure the current reporting deadlines and she would anticipate a similar battle to address the gaps before the primary.
“We would love to have more disclosure generally and it would help if we had more deadlines,” she said. “Whether the political will is there or not, I don’t know.”
In 2015, the Legislature added a campaign disclosure report for super PACs on Oct. 1 of an election year. Prior, these non-candidate committees had a report due Aug. 31 after the primary and then nothing until a week or so before the general election in November.
Tanida said it would increase transparency by similarly adding a reporting deadline before the primary, perhaps a month or so out.
Tony Baldomero of the state Campaign Spending Commission said it isn’t something the agency had considered pushing with the Legislature but could see its value.
It’s unusual for mudslinging like this to come out so early in a campaign. Political attacks are typically closer to the election so they can have a greater chance of swaying voters.
Baldomero said the commission is looking at aligning its reporting schedules more toward absentee voting as more people take advantage of these options to cast ballots before the election.
Early walk-in voting starts July 30 and absentee ballots typically are mailed out 20 days prior to the election, according to the state Office of Elections.
“We do want to have as much information as possible,” Tanida said. “That is the bottom line.”
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