The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission has fined both Vicky Cayetano’s campaign and super PAC Victory Calls over allegations of improper coordination between the candidate’s campaign and the independent expenditure political action committee.

At a hearing Wednesday, the commission staff said it found probable cause that the Cayetano campaign improperly coordinated with the PAC to run a print ad in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in May attacking Gov. Josh Green, who at the time was a gubernatorial candidate and Cayetano’s opponent.

The commission dismissed a separate count alleging that the campaign and the political action committee coordinated on a television ad calling into question Green’s certification as an emergency medical doctor.

In an odd maneuver, the five-member commission that regulates campaign finances in Hawaii voted unanimously to fine the Cayetano campaign and Victory Calls $1,000 jointly for the print ad, meaning either the PAC or the campaign can pay the fine.

“They can work it out how they want to work it out,” Gary Kam, the commission’s general counsel, said in an interview. “If we have to enforce it, there’ll be another tribunal to figure that out. But they were the only two entities involved in the coordination itself.”

This print ad from May is at the center of a complaint alleging that Vicky Cayetano’s campaign coordinated information with a super PAC. Screenshot

The commission levied a separate fine of $2,750 against Victory Calls. Victory Calls chairwoman Meredith Nutter, did not respond to a phone call and text message left at the number listed for the super PAC.

Cayetano said she had not yet received the commission’s written findings as of Wednesday afternoon but plans to challenge them.

“I intend to challenge it. I am not accepting it. It is not true,” Cayetano said in a phone interview.

She said the commission did not interview anyone from her campaign and that she only spoke to Kam once about six or seven weeks ago.

“I would like to know how they came to this conclusion without so much as talking to anyone from Vicky for Governor, I think that’s very damning on their part,” Cayetano said.

She said that she and her campaign chair, Loretta Sheehan, sent a written response to a questionnaire from the commission. In it, the campaign said that it knew nothing about the super PAC’s expenses and did not provide it with any information, according to Cayetano.

Kam declined to discuss more details about the commission’s investigation and said a written order is expected to be mailed Thursday.

Regarding the allegations of coordination, Kam said: “What I can say is there was no evidence to back up the television ad, but there was evidence to back up the Star-Advertiser (ad).”

The fines stem from a complaint brought to the commission by Christian West, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, alleging coordination between the campaign and the super PAC, which is also funded by some of Cayetano’s donors.

Called independent expenditure committees in Hawaii, super PACs are allowed to take in and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates as long as they do not coordinate with candidate campaigns. If they do, they are subject to strict limitations on donations and spending.

While Kam said there was “no proof of coordination” between the campaign and Victory Calls in regard to the television spot featuring Da Braddah’s, he recommended that the commission assess fines against the PAC and the campaign for the print ad.

Republican candidate for governor Vicky Cayetano's Job Interview segment
Vicky Cayetano’s campaign may be in hot water over attack ads that ran last year. HNN/2022

The print advertisement headlined “Does Character Still Matter (Part 1)” brought up a fine from the ethics commission against Green and other concerns, including calling into question Green’s employment outside state government as a Big Island doctor, which Cayetano made a central message of her campaign in the days leading up to the August primary election.

Those points attacking Green appeared to come from an opposition research book paid for by Cayetano’s campaign.

“Without coordination, it is extremely unlikely that the ‘unaffiliated’ Victory Calls PAC chose the same attacks verbatim as were prominently identified in the Cayetano campaign’s paid opposition research book on Lt. Governor Green as the subject of negative ads,” West’s written complaint said.

West included excerpts of the book in his complaint, which Cayetano later confirmed came from the opposition book, Kam said.

The campaign and super PAC are being fined under a law governing spending on campaign materials and advertisements. If expenditures on an ad are coordinated, they are considered a contribution to a candidate’s campaign and therefore subject to expenditure limits, which in a governor’s race is $6,000 per person.

Victory Calls spent about $30,000 on the full-page print ad, which resulted in a $24,000 excess contribution to Cayetano’s campaign. The commission ordered the campaign to pay that amount to the state.

By coordinating with the campaign, Victory Calls also became subject to donation limits of $1,000 per person. Kam also noted that donations made to Victory Calls after the May run date of the print ad should also be treated as excess contributions, including those from Daniel Delbrel ($29,000), Wallace Tsuha ($4,000) and Charlyn Masini ($6,000). All three were also donors to Cayetano’s campaign. Masini is a past campaign manager for former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

The commission ordered Victory Calls to pay those excess amounts to the state and fined the group $2,750.

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