UPDATED July 26 3 p.m.
A contractor portrayed by a pro-rail union group as a key cog in pay-to-play corruption is striking back in two new radio commercials.
The spots, which began airing Thursday, feature Dennis Mitsunaga and his daughter Lois. They both work for Mitsunaga and Associates, which does a variety of construction, architecture, engineering and consulting work. Mitsunaga has become embroiled in the mayoral campaign because of the company’s tight friendship with former Gov. Ben Cayetano and its success securing government contracts.
The heavy response from a private citizen is unusual.
The Pacific Resource Partnership, which supports rail for the jobs it would create for members of the carpenters union and the work it would generate for contractors, has focused on the Mitsunagas as an example of why Cayetano isn’t fit to be mayor. Cayetano has vowed to kill rail if elected.
PRP has not mentioned Mitsunaga by name in its commercials, but has injected corruption back into the public consciousness. A television spot said Cayetano received illegal campaign contributions, and a radio commercial earlier this month pushed the “pay-to-play” angle. On Tuesday, PRP emailed supporters with more details:
Dennis Mitsunaga was a key figure in the pay-to-play corruption that plagued Cayetano’s administration as governor, who allegedly helped lead this system by shaking down architects and engineers for contributions if they wanted government contracts. Mitsunaga profited handsomely under Cayetano, securing nearly one-fourth of all State Department of Transportation projects in a one year period — 10 contracts worth $8.65 million dollars. Today, as Cayetano’s finance chair, Mitsunaga and his associates have already contributed $45,500 to Cayetano’s campaign.
Read more about Cayetano’s fundraising: Attack Ads Push Campaign Cash Into Spotlight In Honolulu Mayor’s Race
The Mitsunagas hit back hard in the two 60-second spots, attacking PRP Executive Director John White as a “hypocrite” from Arkansas who begged them for support two years ago when he was running for Honolulu City Council.
“I hope that the people of Hawaii will not pay attention to anything else coming from this hypocrite. My name and my company was smeared by him for political gain,” Dennis Mitsunaga says in his commercial. “I run a very successful and ethical engineering firm with contracts worldwide that have nothing to do with pay to play as he claims. We win contracts because we are highly qualified, and for no other reason.”
Listen to the two ads, provided to Civil Beat by Lois Mitsunaga, here:
The ads say they were “paid for by Dennis Mitsunaga and [are] not endorsed by any political party or candidate.” Lois Mitsunaga did not immediately respond to a question about how much her father spent to produce and air the two commercials.
UPDATE PRP provided the following written statement from White:
Ben Cayetano’s campaign is getting defensive because they know voters don’t want to return to the “pay-to-play” system that flourished when he was governor.
Cayetano, in a written statement provided by his campaign, said, “I have nothing to do with the commercials. They are paid for by the Mitsunagas. Given John White’s (and PRP’s) recent commercials smearing Dennis Mitsunaga and his company, no one should be surprised that Mitsunaga responded.”
The heavy response from a private citizen is somewhat rare, but it’s part of a larger strategy on how to respond to negative campaigning, said retired University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner.
“As part of a general strategy, one of the best ways to respond to negative ads is to hit back very heavily and very quickly, and that’s pretty much what Cayetano has been doing all along the line,” Milner told Civil Beat Thursday. “It is part of a strategy that says, ‘We’re not going to let anybody get away with a negative ad.'”
In a follow-up email, Milner wrote that the Mitsunagas’ ads are “deeply personal.”
“There is not much calculating about them at all. They emphasize that White is a hypocrite when it comes to fundraising and sleazy when it comes to his own past candidacy,” he wrote. “Pretty passionate and direct, more so than your typical response to a negative ad.”
Both Mitsunaga commercials cited a report from Civil Beat that White is under investigation by the Campaign Spending Commission for expenditures in his 2010 campaign.
“Civil Beat just reported that John White illegally took money out of his own campaign in his city council race and is being investigated,” Lois Mitsunaga said in her commercial.
“This same John White is now being personally investigated by the Campaign Spending Commission for his own illegal activities as reported in Civil Beat,” Dennis Mitsunaga said in his.
But that’s not an accurate representation of what Civil Beat reported: The commission has merely asked White to provide documentation to explain how he spent more than $20,000 on “get out the vote activities” during the final days of that race.
If White is able to provide evidence, including the names of the campaign workers and how much they were paid, the door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking would be considered legitimate expenditures and he would be cleared, according to Spending Commission General Counsel Gary Kam.
Read that full story: In Twist, PRP Chief Target Of Campaign Probe