The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission is investigating a super PAC that spent over $100,000 on attack ads targeting Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya in the primary election.
Aloha Aina Oiaio and some of its donors have been subpoenaed by the commission, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. Officials are reviewing whether donors to the political action committee donated on someone else’s behalf, an illegal transaction called a false name contribution.
Asked for comment, Gary Kam, the commission’s general counsel, would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. He said such matters become public once an investigation is complete and a formal complaint has been drafted for the commissioners to review.
As primary voters received their primary ballots in late July, the PAC funded TV and radio ads, robocalls and mailed flyers in an effort to disparage Amemiya. The messages attempted to tie the candidate to corruption, including with unsubstantiated allegations, distortions of the truth and outright false claims.
As of Aug. 8, the PAC had 23 contributors. A review of state campaign finance records going back over a decade shows most of those people had not donated to any political candidates in that time period, or to a political action committee.
Some of them made substantial donations despite listing occupations that aren’t known to be particularly well-paying.
Naalei Artuyo, a receptionist at Queen’s Medical, donated $1,400. Renell Riberio, who listed herself as a caretaker at Care Hawaii, donated $6,000. Riberio did not respond to requests for comment, and Artuyo wrote via Facebook messenger that she has “no comment.”
“Please do not bother me again!” she said.
The women are among three PAC donors who live at the same Nuuanu-area address on Booth Road as the chair of the PAC, Lokahi Cuban, who also donated money, according to campaign finance data.
Cuban sells guppies, koi and other fish through a company called Bloodline Fish Farm, according to social media accounts.
He would not speak with Civil Beat for this story and instead, via Facebook messenger, directed questions to the PAC’s email address.
“Your conduct is amounting to harassment, in which it may require me to obtain a restraining order against you,” he wrote to Civil Beat. “Please do not contact me any further.”
Earlier this year, Cuban publicly proclaimed himself a “100% HANABUSA SUPPORTER,” but later said he does not support any particular candidate.
Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa came in third in the August mayoral primary and is now backing Amemiya’s competitor, Rick Blangiardi. She said in July that she is not involved with the PAC or Cuban.
The PAC is on the Campaign Spending Commission’s Sept. 9 meeting agenda to settle a $100 fine for filing a late report. In July, it was fined $250 for failing to file an electioneering report within 24 hours of its purchase of printing services.
Civil Beat reached out to people who donated to the PAC to ask why they contributed and inquire about whether they engaged in the type of transaction the Campaign Spending Commission is investigating.
James Auld runs Jimmy Up Home Improvement. Between himself and his business, he donated $9,000 to the PAC, campaign finance records show. By Facebook messenger, he denied any knowledge of an inappropriate donation.
“I have no idea what you are talking about, so I am unable to answer any questions that you may have,” he wrote. “I would appreciate you not contacting me in any way again.”
Shozo Sato is 94 years old and is so hearing impaired that his son Dexter Sato said he couldn’t come to the phone when Civil Beat called. However, the elderly Sato donated $8,000 to Aloha Aina Oiaio in July and August, campaign finance records show. He has made only one other political donation in recent years, according to state records: $1,000 to Neil Abercrombie in 2010.
Dexter Sato donated a total of $9,000 to Aloha Aina Oiaio through three donations in July and August. He said he and his father received anti-Amemiya flyers in the mail from the PAC and wanted to contribute.
“We donated because we don’t like Amemiya,” he said. “You ask me too much questions about nothing.”
Jim Branda, an attorney based in Naperville, Illinois, donated $2,000 to the PAC.
Branda is listed as the vice president of Ricondo & Associates, a Chicago aviation consulting firm, on the company’s website. Despite living on the mainland, he donated $1,000 to Shan Tsutsui in 2014 and a combined $4,000 to Colleen Hanabusa for her races for governor and mayor.
Asked who solicited his donation to Aloha Aina Oiaio, Branda cut the conversation short.
“I’m not interested in talking about it,” he said, and hung up the phone.
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