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Former state Sen. Clayton Hee said he woke up Thursday morning to learn that a super PAC had hung more than 100 disparaging yellow signs around eastern Oahu attacking him and his candidacy for governor.
In bold black capital letters, the signs urged passersby to “Stop Clayton Hee” and “Stop Domestic Violence.” Hee is running for governor.
Hee said he filed a police report, contacted the state Campaign Spending Commission and is considering a defamation lawsuit against the super PAC — Women Against Domestic Violence Hawaii, which is headed by Honolulu attorney Megan Kau.
“It’s discouraging for me because in Hawaii we like to think of ourselves as fair,” Hee said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “To me, this is a new low.”
Honolulu police officers removed about two dozen signs and banners in the morning from overpasses and city poles that were in violation of county signage laws.
Responding to what he called a smear campaign, Hee highlighted the lack of transparency in who funds super PACs and how high the stakes apparently are in the governor’s race.
Hee is running for the Democratic nomination against Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and Gov. David Ige in the Aug. 11 primary. Hee has trailed them by a wide margin in two separate polls over the past three months, but said this attack shows how vital his campaign is.
Hee said he suspects the super PAC is working to help Hanabusa. He said he’s been told his campaign would hurt hers more than Ige’s.
Keith DeMello, a spokesman for the Hanabusa campaign, said Thursday that “Our campaign had no knowledge of the signs. The Hanabusa for Governor campaign urges all candidates to run a clean election based on debate of the issues.”
Hee also noted how his campaign platform includes a pledge to end the Honolulu rail project at Middle Street instead of Ala Moana, which he said would save billions of dollars.
The over-budget project, which is planned to include 20 stations and run 20 miles from Kapolei, is now estimated to cost at least $8.2 billion — $3 billion more than projected just a few years ago. Hanabusa and Ige both support completing the project as planned.
Hee said past polling has shown many east Oahu residents are against continuing to pay the 0.5 percent surcharge on the state general excise tax to fund the rail project, and that’s why he thinks many of the banners were put up in neighborhoods like Hawaii Kai and along Kalanianaole Highway.
Kau, a former Honolulu city prosecutor, said she 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 that the filings include mentions of verbal and physical abuse, infidelity and how Hee “lived off her assets and absconded with her money.”
Hee again rejected allegations of domestic violence Thursday, noting that he has never been arrested and never had a temporary restraining order against him or even a police report filed. He said divorces can be “very emotional and distressful” and that the judge at his divorce trial never mentioned domestic violence.
Berg has said she’s not behind the super PAC or its website and is not part of the national #MeToo movement against domestic violence.
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 they do not coordinate with any candidate’s campaign.
That leaves the public virtually in the dark about campaign spending for the duration of that reporting period, which covers Jan. 1 to July 27.
But on Thursday, Kau disclosed to Civil Beat some of the information about who is funding her super PAC. She said it consists of her close friends, estimating fewer than seven people who each donated less than $2,000.
Kau said she put in $3,000 of her own money and that her friends, Chrissy Okamoto, Esther and Peter Jones and Summer Uwono, also donated $1,000 to $2,000 apiece.
She said none of them are politicians or connected to any of the candidates.
“My generation is a new generation,” Kau said, referring to the #MeToo movement. “These people that are older than 60 that grew up in a different community, in a different atmosphere that these things were allowed — that’s not allowed to happen anymore.
“There are cell phones that record people, video and audio. There are people that see things that speak up now,” she said.
Kau said she is a lawyer and a strong woman who works in a male-dominated profession. She said she went through an uncomfortable situation — she did not elaborate — and decided she must step up to prevent it from happening to other women.
Kau rejected Hee’s theory that the signs were put up in eastern Oahu because of his rail stance. She said that’s just where her friends happen to live and volunteered to help.
Kau said they were unfamiliar with laws regulating where signs can and cannot be posted. She denied any “mischief” and said it was just a “miscommunication.”
Kau said more signs will likely be going up Thursday night in other parts of the island as part of the super PAC’s effort.
The signs clearly indicate, as required by law, that they were paid for by the super PAC and include its address on Bishop Street and website. The fine print also says, “without the authority or approval of any candidate.”
Hee said the posters reminded him of the 2012 smear campaign against former Gov. Ben Cayetano in his bid for Honolulu mayor. Cayetano was the anti-rail candidate running against now-Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
The tactics used by the super PAC formed by Pacific Resource Partnership, a group of contractors supportive of the rail project, led to fines by the Campaign Spending Commission and a defamation lawsuit by Cayetano that resulted in a $125,000 settlement agreement two years later.
Joshua Magno of PRP recently formed the All Hawaii Stand Together super PAC for this year’s elections. It’s unclear what races it intends to influence.
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