Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All in the Family

If you think running for office on the Big Island is expensive, try running on O'ahu. While $2,000 or so would be a high-end donation for a Hawai'i Island legislator or councilmember, O'ahu officeholders often get the legal max of $4,000 per person (especially if the donor is a lawyer or contractor). Or, in some cases, more.

According to state law, campaign donations are limited $4,000 per candidate for each “person” donating; a "person," is defined as "An individual or any general partnership in which the individual belongs." But there are some big loopholes. Apparently, for instance, there's an exception for family members.

Take the case of Ann Kobayashi, for instance, who resigned her Honolulu council position last year in order to run for mayor.

Having the last name of Kobayashi can be pretty expensive at election time. Kobayashi got $8,000 out of Honolulu housewife Dawn Kobayashi, and another $4,000 out of financial advisor Dale Kobayashi of the same address. Mellon Capital Management portfolio manager Susan Kobayashi of San Francisco gave $10,000 to the cause. Honolulu Real estate Developer Burt Kobayashi added another $1000--but then, real estate developers commonly drop that much money on officeholders, whether they share the same last name or not.

Of course, small family fortunes like this are only a few drops in the bucket for a full-fledged O'ahu campaign these days. But it’s also possible to tap other families for more than the maximum donation, if you divide the donations between family members. Honolulu Attorneys Patricia and Arthur Park of Park, Park, Yu and Remillard, for instance, anted up $4,000 each for Kobayashi. So did J Frances E. and Francis Y. Toyama, who both reside at the same Nu’uanu address, and John and Charlene Flynn, who share an address in Nevada, Missouri. Honolulu Accountant Betty Lou Stroup and retiree Edward Stroup, also both of the same address, chipped in another $4,000 apiece--and so did Betty Lou’s employer, Princess Abigail Kawanakoa. President Joseph Pickard of Community Planning and Engineering, Kaneohe, dropped in $4,000, and Melissa Pickard, who shares Joseph's address, added $3,000 on the same day. Wagdi A. Guirguis and Peter Melnyck, who are both listed as “President” of GMP Associates on Kobayashi’s campaign reporting forms, also put in $4,000 apiece.

Kobayashi donated $10,512 worth of postage stamps to her own campaign, but that apparently wasn’t enough, so Honolulu housewife Jane Kumabe to chipped in more stamps worth $3,825. Lawrence Kumabe, an attorney for the city’s Corporation Counsel office who shares Jane’s address, donated in another $800, boosting the Kumabe household’s contribution to $4,625. (Kobayashi also got $2,199 worth of postage stamps from City and County of Honolulu legislative aide Karen Yorimoto.)

One would think that, if the intent was not to skirt the $4,000 contribution limit, one also would also see members of the same households putting in smaller amounts. But in fact, I found only one couple on Kobayashi’s list who shared an address but whose dual contributions totaled less $7,000.

Kobayashi also hit up all the usual donors: labor unions, lawyers, developers, insurers, construction firms. Among other members of her “$4,000 club” were manager Teri Otani of the Honolulu structural engineering firm Mitsunaga & Associates; Hilo attorney Terence Yoshioka; Pueo Trucking Company owner John F. Souza III of Kapolei; Sheet Metal Worker's International Union Local 293; United Airlines manager Valerie Van Buren; Honolulu attorney James Wright, Island Title escrow officer Chin Davone Tan, and the Realtor's Political Action Committee,. The campaign committees of Scott Nishimoto, Scott Sakai and Romy Cachola gave $4,000 each from donations collected for their candidates. The Ironworkers Local added $3,775 to the kitty. All told, Kobayashi reported raising $637,490.84 during the 2006-2008 election period.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Philip Morris's Campaign Generosity; Mufi Hanneman Money Glitch?

I've been continuing my voyage into the wacky, wonderful world of campaign finance. I've got a green light from the Big Island Weekly to do a story about tobacco money in local politics. And yes, local politicians have been calling for Philip Morris quite a lot, but it ain't easy to trace. Unlike, say, Anheuser Busch, which funnels its money through its own non-candidate committee, Philip Morris's money comes in sometimes under its company name, sometimes through its parent company, Altria; sometimes via its wholly owned lobbying subsidiary, Altria Commercial Services, sometimes through local lobbyists that the company hired, and sometimes through company officials. As a result, I'm having to go through every individual candidate's campaign filings to look for all the names....

In the process of doing that, meanwhile, I'm making other interesting discoveries. It's no suprise Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman's contributors include a long list of developers and lobbyists, both mainland and local, for instance--but one collection of entries particularly caught my eye. On June 19, 2007, three different partners in a Washington lobbying firm called The National Group dumped a total of $5,500 dollars into Hanneman's campaign spending fund.

State campaign spending laws limit contributions to $4000 per "person." A "person," for the law's purpose, is "An individual or any general partnership in which the individual belongs." The three lobbying partners' donation looks like a clear violation of the law. But if you're waiting for the Campaign Spending Commission to investigate, don't hold your breath. Last year, I brought a similar situation to their attention: Billy Kenoi's mayoral campaign got a huge influx of cash from various heirs of the Campbell Estate. Most of those contributions came in on the same day, and all of the heirs listed their profession as "entrepreneur" (a term used only by Campbell heirs among Kenoi's contributors--which strongly suggests that they planned their contributions together.

I asked the CSC if they were going to investigate.

"We don't go on fishing expeditions," I was told.