Former members of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission lashed out against an ad campaign by Pacific Resource Partnership that's targeting former Gov. Ben Cayetano as he sets his sights on becoming Honolulu's next mayor.
"They're just fraudulent (and) bogus," said Bob Watada, who headed the Campaign Spending Commission from 1996 to 2005.
The PRP TV ads make it appear as though Cayetano knowingly stuffed his pockets with illegal campaign contributions during his 1998 re-election bid as Hawaii governor.
PRP claims Cayetano used a "loophole" to forgo paying $543,000 in illegal campaign contributions by closing his campaign committee and turning over the $8,655 that remained to the Campaign Spending Commission. However, Watada said Cayetano and other politicians who closed their accounts were just following the law.
"He did nothing illegal," said Watada. "We would not have closed his account if there were any outstanding liabilities."
The executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership, John White, said in a Tuesday news conference that Watada's assertions don't excuse Cayetano from the pay-to-play culture that dominated Hawaii's political scene during the 1990s and early 2000s.
PRP, which is supported by the Hawaii Carpenters Union, has targeted Cayetano because of the former governor's pledge to kill the city's $5.3 billion rail project.
"I think Bob Watada is a friend of Gov. Cayetano and he wants to put Gov. Cayetano in a positive light," said White. "All we ask is that you look at the record for yourself."
White was U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono's former chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, and like Cayetano, Hirono unknowingly accepted illegal campaign donations totaling $164,265 during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2002. Hirono's campaign committee turned over $95,073.58 to the Campaign Spending Commission, but closed the account before $69,191.42 in illegal contributions could be returned.
White said unlike Cayetano, Hirono closed her campaign committee and ran for a federal office, so the comparison to Cayetano doesn't hold water.