WASHINGTON — State Rep. Kaniela Ing has a numbers problem, and it’s not just because he’s trailing in the polls in the race for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.

The Federal Election Commission sent a letter to Ing’s campaign treasurer, Matthew Kaulana Ing, on May 29 to inform him that the campaign needs to update its latest financial filings or face potential audits and enforcement action.

And while the omissions are seemingly minor, they hint at a larger pattern that has gotten candidate Ing into trouble with the state of Hawaii’s own campaign finance watchdog.

Congressional Candidate Kaniela Ing speaks at the 2018 Democratic Party convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa Resort in Kona, Hawaii.
State Rep. Kaniela Ing has faced a barrage of questions over discrepancies in his campaign spending reports. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

According to the FEC’s letter, Ing’s campaign left out key information about how he’s spending his money as he attempts to win U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s 1st Congressional District seat while she runs for governor.

The letter states Ing’s campaign failed to note the purpose of certain itemized expenses.

The FEC additionally found that Ing did not provide complete information about reimbursements the campaign made to staffers for travel expenses, event tickets and T-shirts.

Christian Hilland, a spokesman for the FEC, said he could not comment specifically on Ing’s campaign, but he noted that letters such as the one sent to Ing are commonplace.

The FEC has also notified Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, who’s running for the same seat in Congress, of problems in his campaign filings, including for taking contributions above federal limits and getting money from groups that are not registered as political committees with the FEC.

“These are sent out quite frequently to committees around the country,” Hilland said. “We’re not saying that anything is necessarily wrong. There are are just some things that appear to not be in compliance with the law.”

He said campaigns are given several weeks to respond to the FEC’s concerns and update their filings. Only after repeated failures to abide by FEC rules and regulations, he said, would the agency launch into auditing and enforcement.

Ing’s campaign has until July 3 to respond to the FEC’s concerns. Martin has until July 5.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Ing, the Maui-based lawmaker, must contend with serious allegations of financial mismanagement of his state campaign.

Last month, the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission filed a 32-count complaint against Ing and his campaign after finding that over a five-year period he failed to disclose nearly $29,000 in contributions and $88,000 in expenditures.

The commission — which subpoenaed bank records as part of its investigation — found that Ing used his campaign account to pay for personal expenses, including his rent and a credit card payment for his partner, Khara Jabola-Carolus, who is the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

The Campaign Spending Commission also noted a July 2016 incident in which Ing was arrested for failing to appear in court regarding a motor vehicle insurance violation.

According to the complaint, Ing called the commission in August 2016 to see if he could use campaign funds to pay for his legal fees in the case. He was told he could not.

Bank records obtained by the commission show that Ing cut a $1,000 check from his personal bank account to a law firm on Sept. 8, 2016. Several days later, on Sept. 14, Ing deposited a check for $1,921.96 that was made out to his campaign into his personal account.

In all, the commission found that Ing’s campaign filed 23 financial reports that covered the election periods from July 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2016. Not a single one, the commission said, was “true, complete and accurate.”

The commission has recommended Ing reimburse his campaign $2,344 as well as pay a fine of $15,422 — money that can come out of his campaign account.

His campaign could also be forced to pay $2,000 into the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which provides public financing for campaigns. The commission also has the option to forward the case for criminal prosecution.

Ing, 29, told Civil Beat on Monday that he was unaware of the FEC’s request for more information, saying that he’s separated himself from the accounting side of his campaign.

He said he had problems in the past tracking his campaign funds, but that for his congressional campaign he has a “much more sophisticated operation” that relies on accountants, lawyers and other staff.

Ing further blamed himself for his past mistakes, describing it as a matter of inexperience. He added that he would work with the FEC and Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission to resolve the discrepancies.

“With state campaigns people assume that you have a big team working with you, and if you make a mistake that you should have known,” Ing said. “But that wasn’t my experience. I was a grassroots candidate who was only 23 years old.”

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