Candidates who violate campaign finance laws will face stiffer penalties after a state commission voted to double some fines for first-time offenders Wednesday.

Campaign Spending Commission members voted unanimously to raise the first-time fines from $500 to $1,000.

“I think that’s a good signal,” said Commissioner Kenneth Goodenow. “We’ve been getting too many false reports. People need to be aware. These have to be accurate.”

The higher penalties were not levied against the 25 candidates and committees who were fined a total of $7,300 at Wednesday’s meeting under the old fine schedule, which started at $500 for a first offense, $750 for a second and $1,000 for a third..

Kenneth Goodenow, one of five members of the Campaign Spending Commission, says that the bump in fines sends an appropriate signal to would-be campaign lawbreakers. Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat

The commission doesn’t typically determine that a report is false — and therefore deserving of a fine — because of small calculation errors. But large discrepancies are considered to be false reports, said Kristin Izumi-Nitao, commission director.

The commission has the option to refer candidates who continue to file false reports to the Attorney General’s office to face criminal prosecution, Izumi-Nitao said.

Commissioners also voted to create a fine schedule for candidates who exceed voluntary spending limits. 

Those who spend too much will now face fines of $500 for a first-time offense, $750 for a second and $1,000 for a third.

Candidates can self-impose spending limits to get discounts on nomination filing fees and become eligible to receive public funds for their campaigns, according to the commission’s website.

Most of the candidates fined at Wednesday’s meeting either failed to file statements or missed filing deadlines.

Mike Victorino, a Maui mayoral candidate, was fined $2,800 for failing to file electioneering statements. The fine was reduced from the original figure of $8,000.

Dolphin Quest, a company that runs dolphin swimming activities, was slapped with the next-highest fine Wednesday of $733 for late filing.

Stanley Lum, left, and Chair Bryan Luke, right, are two of the five members of the Campaign Spending Commission. Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat

The company, which has operations at the Kahala Hotel and Resort on Oahu and Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, made campaign contributions of about $3,000 in July. It gave $2,000 to State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, whose legislative district includes the Hilton Waikoloa, and $1,000 to Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa in her failed gubernatorial run.

The commission fined Defend Hawaii Now $583. The PAC supported Hanabusa’s bid for governor with television advertisements. It is not affiliated with the clothing company Defend Hawaii, the company wrote on its website.

The only candidate who actually came to the commission meeting was Elton Fukumoto, who lost to Dale Kobayashi in the Aug. 11 primary for the state House District 23 seat in Manoa.

The commission fined Fukumoto $583 for filing an electioneering statement late. Fukumoto said he’s willing to pay, but added the electioneering communication provision in Hawaii’s election laws needs to be more clear.

Electioneering reports are supposed to be submitted within 24 hours of signing a contract for an ad buy, such as TV commercials, newspaper ads or social media promos.

Several commissioners agreed with Fukumoto that the law could be more clear.

Goodenow recommended the commissioners discuss the language of the provision at a future meeting and make recommendations for changes to the Legislature.

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