The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission fined U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele’s gubernatorial campaign $1,000 for improperly soliciting donations from lists of donors who had contributed to Gov. David Ige’s 2014 run for governor.

The commission took just minutes to vote unanimously on leveling a fine against Kahele’s campaign. The campaign will have two weeks to pay the fine. Kahele wasn’t present at the meeting.

Kahele’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the commission’s vote Thursday morning.

2022 HNN Debate Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele debates Vicky Cayetano and Josh Green at the Sheraton Hotel.
Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele’s gubernatorial campaign was fined Thursday for soliciting donors. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Kahele made campaign finance reform central to his own campaign.

Like Ige in 2014, Kahele hoped to win the governor’s office with a campaign funded in part by the public and promised to only accept donations under $100. But Kahele missed out on his opportunity to access public funds for his campaign in July after failing to file paperwork needed for the process.

Just a day later, Ige’s office got a complaint from a constituent about a letter from Kahele’s campaign asking for a donation.

“I found this (letter) very annoying … how did Kahele get this info?” the message read.

The governor’s office forwarded the complaint to campaign spending commission staff, which also obtained the letter from Kahele’s campaign asking for a small-dollar donation.

“In the 2014 primary, you contributed $25 to David Ige’s publicly financed campaign … Now, I am humbly asking if you would consider making that same contribution again, but this time to our campaign,” the letter said.

In a phone call to the commission earlier this year, Kahele said that the solicitation letter was based on contribution statements from Ige’s campaign in 2014. The statement contains a list of donors that was required for Ige to obtain public financing in 2014.

“Kahele also informed Commission staff that he randomly selected ‘100 or so’ contributors from the 2014 statement … and sent his campaign committee’s solicitation letter to those contributors,” the written complaint against Kahele said.

In doing so, Kahele’s campaign violated a state law that prohibits the use of campaign spending reports for soliciting donations or other commercial purposes, Gary Kam, the commission’s general counsel, said.

Reform Measures Proposed

The commission also unanimously approved a package of new proposals to submit during the next legislative session, which is slated to start in January.

One proposal seeks to close a loophole that allows legislators to use their campaign funds to donate to other legislators. That practice is generally banned, but lawmakers can buy up to two tickets to their colleagues’ fundraisers in order to funnel money between campaigns.

“The commission found this has led candidates to building factions and buying influence,” Kam said.

Under the proposed bill, there would be exceptions for governor candidates and their running mates to donate to each other.

Another proposal would ban all elected officials from accepting campaign contributions during any regular or special session of the Legislature. This year, lawmakers banned fundraising events, but still took in more than $500,000 to help bolster their campaigns this election season.

Capitol building.
The commission plans to introduce a package of bills to reform Hawaii’s campaign finance laws. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The commission is also proposing a bill that would expand Hawaii’s law banning campaign donations from government contractors. The current ban only applies to companies with contracts.

The proposed bill would expand that prohibition to the principal officers of those companies and the officer’s family members. A similar ban would also be extended to recipients of state grants

Commissioner Bryan Luke asked Kam if the bill would be enforceable.

“If you’re talking about any grantee, any members of their whole family, how will we track that? It just seems that would be difficult,” Luke said.

Kam said that he’d follow a similar procedure he uses when he investigates false name contributions, looking for donations made on the same date or other donors from the same company.

The ban, however, wouldn’t apply to subcontractors.

“We’d like to include subcontractors,” Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao told the commission. “But we don’t want to introduce a bill to you that we can’t enforce.”

Izumi-Nitao is also a member of a legislative Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct. That group has been reviewing ethics, elections and campaign finance laws and is expected to deliver its own package of reform proposals sometime in December.

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