A new political action committee has launched a negative campaign against mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya just days before Oahu voters receive their primary election ballots in the mail.
Aloha Aina Oiaio is spreading disparaging messages, including false information, about Amemiya via emails, ads and a website that suggests the candidate is tied to corruption.
Electioneering filings show the PAC has spent nearly $17,000 getting its message out. That includes over $5,000 on radio ads at five stations; more than $1,100 on postage; and $11,438 on printing services at Edward Enterprises.
One 30-second KDNN ad asks: “Who is the real Keith Amemiya? Mufi Hannemann appointed buddy Amemiya to the Police Commission who appointed Chief Kealoha after taking $25,000 from SHOPO for his own nonprofit. Then Keith resigned after an ethics probe.”
The ad gives listeners the false impression that Amemiya was involved in hiring Kealoha. He was not.
Adam Wong, Amemiya’s campaign chairman, said in a statement that the PAC is an example of “politics-as-usual antics that turn voters off.”
“Those behind this smear campaign have falsely represented Keith’s record and are misleading the public in an act of desperation,” he said. “People are tired of dirty politics and are looking for a change in the way things are done. Keith is determined to bring about that change despite the forces that have assembled to stop him.”
Lokahi Cuban registered the Aloha Aina Oiaio PAC with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission on Saturday.
In a Facebook message, he told Civil Beat that he is a 30-year-old Native Hawaiian who is involved with the Aloha Aina movement and wants to bring “truth, transparency and accountability in city government.”
“When I decided to form this PAC, I did so because I felt that for so many years and on so many issues, the voices of our people were not being heard,” he wrote, citing the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, the Sherwood Forest project at Waimanalo Bay, the Kahuku wind farm development on Oahu’s North Shore and the Honolulu rail project.
Pua Ishibashi, a founder of the Aloha Aina political party, said he doesn’t know Cuban or his PAC. One can be a member of the Aloha Aina movement without being a member of the party, he said.
In 2014, Cuban donated $2,000 to Hawaii Solutions, a Republican PAC that produced attack ads against Democrat Gil Riviere, Ian Lind reported at the time. He hasn’t donated to a PAC since and has not donated to any political candidates since at least 2006, according to campaign finance data.
Aloha Aina Oiaio’s website says its campaign was initiated without the approval or authority of any candidate, and Cuban said that he is not supporting any particular candidate.
However, in multiple Facebook posts, Cuban has said he wants former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to be mayor.
“I’M A 100% HANABUSA SUPPORTER,” he wrote in a since-deleted February post.
Cuban told Civil Beat he is “not in any way, officially or unofficially, involved with the Hanabusa campaign.” He said he attended a Hanabusa event on Native Hawaiian issues and other small events in the past, but that he also attended similar events for other mayoral candidates.
Hanabusa said by email that she wasn’t aware of the Aloha Aina Oiaio PAC until Civil Beat asked about it. She said Cuban has volunteered on her campaign but she hasn’t seen him in about a month.
“I have nothing to do with this organization, and I do not condone this type of campaigning,” she said. “I have been on the receiving end and wish that we can have the people decide on the issues and our experience.”
She said in a follow-up statement that she called Amemiya personally to let him know she was not part of the PAC’s effort.
“I’ve also communicated with my campaign organization that we will not tolerate or condone negative campaigning of any kind,” she said.
Cuban said he feels Hannemann, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Managing Director Roy Amemiya, who is Keith’s cousin, “played key roles in perpetuating dishonesty and working against our communities.” He said he wants to “expose” Keith Amemiya’s connections to those officials.
He added that he hopes to counter Amemiya’s own campaign ads, which are funded by $1.2 million in campaign donations and portray the candidate as a “fresh perspective.”
The PAC’s ads, however, contain allegations without evidence and some blatantly false information.
In 2009, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, which Amemiya directed at the time, accepted a $25,000 donation from the police union for a Save Our Sports fundraising campaign. At the time, Amemiya was vice chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission. The Honolulu Ethics Commission investigated a potential conflict of interest, and Amemiya resigned in September 2009.
“It crossed my mind that someone might question the SHOPO (State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers) donation, but because it’s going directly to the public schools, I didn’t feel it would be a problem,” Amemiya told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin at the time.
The PAC says Amemiya rescinded his support for former Police Chief Boisse Correa to allow Louis Kealoha to become chief – an allegation that is untrue, Amemiya said. Amemiya said he didn’t rescind his support of Correa and wasn’t on the Police Commission at the time members appointed Louis Kealoha as chief in November 2009.
The PAC also alleges malfeasance in Amemiya’s purchase of a condo unit at 801 South St. The so-called “workforce housing” project was required to offer 75% of its units to people making 140% of the area median income or below. In 2015, that would’ve been about $97,000 for a two-person household, according to the Hawaii Community Development Authority.
Amemiya and other people who were involved in the development of the project bought market-rate units. The PAC falsely suggests the units they purchased were “reserved for low-income buyers” and that Amemiya “illegally” bought one. The HCDA said it had no records showing Amemiya’s unit was one of the reserved affordable units.
The PAC alleged that Amemiya immediately sold the unit and “made substantial profits,” but property records show Amemiya still owns the unit. Amemiya said he plans to give it to his son one day.
Honolulu’s purchase of a building on Dillingham Boulevard is also cited by the PAC as an example of wrongdoing. Honolulu bought the Kapalama Hale building for $27.5 million in May 2019 from Tradewind Dillingham, a subsidiary of Tradewind Capital Group, which is Amemiya’s former employer.
Amemiya said he had no involvement in the building’s purchase. The purchase and sales agreement names Tradewind executives Colbert Matsumoto and Kent Walther, but not Amemiya.
Aloha Aina Oiaio is not legally required to disclose all of its donors until July 29 – about a week after ballots land in voters’ mailboxes. That deadline renders the disclosure reports almost useless, said Tony Baldomero, associate director of the Campaign Spending Commission. The primary is Aug. 8 and the State Elections Office recommends mailing ballots by Aug. 3 to make sure they’re received in time.
Sandy Ma, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause, said that’s a huge problem. Voters should know who is trying to influence them, she said.
“We need more sunshine on campaign finance,” she said.
Disclosure of top donors is required on the ads themselves if individual contributors chip in $10,000 or more, Baldomero said. If a PAC breaks this rule, it could face a $25 fine.
The Campaign Spending Commission is issuing a $250 fine to the PAC for failing to file an electioneering report within 24 hours of its purchase of printing services, Baldomero said.
Cuban said the PAC is supported by members of the Native Hawaiian community “who are tired of being ignored, neglected and abused by our elected officials.” He said the PAC is soliciting small donations from friends and community members, not “big money donors.”
Civil Beat asked Cuban to disclose his top three donors. He declined.