Category Archives: Campaigns

Could the Hawaii State Senate go 100% blue in 2016?

Earlier this month, Civil Beat did an interview with Sam Slom, the sole Republican currently serving in the Hawaii State Senate. It’s available as a podcast or, if you prefer, you can read the transcript.

During the interview, Slom made light of his position as a minority of one in the 25-member Senate.

To me it’s great, because I get up every morning, I argue with myself for two minutes. I say: “Are you in agreement Sam?” “Yes, that’s a great idea, Sam.” “I think so too, OK, let’s go!”

Slom is up for reelection in 2016, after garnering a rather uninspiring 54.7% of the vote in the 2012 General Election over a relatively unknown Democrat, Kurt Lajala.

Slom’s name came up while I was talking to a politically independent friend who at this point in time is closer to the Republican side of things.

Our discussion came around to the bitter lawsuit brought against Slom by his former live-in partner, reporter Malia Zimmerman.

The story that emerges from Zimmerman’s narrative, as told in the pages of her lawsuit, isn’t pretty. Could it hurt Slom’s reelection bid?

My friend thought it could, because some of Slom’s faithful Republican backers might not approve of the lifestyle choices that are reflected in the lawsuit’s allegations.

All that is speculation, of course, since it depends to a great degree on whether Democrats can come up with a viable candidate with some name recognition in the community. And, of course, it’s always possible that Slom could be upended in the Republican primary, although that seems less likely.

But if a Democratic challenger manages to oust Slom, he won’t be the only one to be out of a job. My friend pointed out that the minority staff in the senate would also lose their jobs if there are no Republican senators remaining to service.

How many jobs would potentially be lost if the Senate goes 100% blue? I’ll let a reader fill in that blank.

I have to admit that I hadn’t thought of it this way before. Back in the old days–for me, that goes back into the 1980s–there were smart, middle of the road Republican senators with excellent staff who were seen as accessible resources by the “good government” groups like Common Cause.

Just in terms of history, has any state legislature ever had all of its members from a single political party?

And in terms of next year’s election, what Democratic seats are most vulnerable to Republican challenges that could keep at least one R in the Senate no matter what happens to Slom?

I’m sure there are strategists on both sides looking at that big picture.

Election for Hawaiian convention delegates proceeds without campaign, ethics laws

My Civil Beat column this week took a different look at the upcoming election for delegates to a Native Hawaiian political convention who will then “decide whether or not to create a document or constitution for a nation and its governance.”

I’m registered to vote in this election, so started looking at the process, which led to the column, “Native Hawaiian Election Throws Out All the Rules.”

What I realized is that none of the laws that apply to state and local elections will apply to this privately conducted election. There will be no campaign contribution limits, no pre-election disclosures of contributors, no restrictions on corporate money, no financial disclosure by candidates, no ethics rules, no limits on conflict of interest, no restrictions on or disclosure of lobbying activity once delegates are election, and so on.

This free for all won’t necessarily lead to corruption and unethical behavior, but it seems to me that’s the likely outcome once special interest groups figure out that there’s a lot at stake in the convention process, and that there are at this point no rules to protect the public interest.

So if you have access to Civil Beat, do check it out.

And speaking of Civil Beat, they announced some changes this week including a new managing editor, Bob Ortega, who has an extensive and varied background, including years as an investigative reporter.

In other news, you may have seen that we are now providing space on our site for public service announcements by nonprofit organizations that need some help getting the word out about events or activities. Currently, the American Lung Association in Hawaii and Family Promises of Hawaii are getting an assist for their fundraising efforts. If you represent a nonprofit that wants to inform the public about an event, drop us a note at Some restrictions apply.

Another new thing you might notice in coming weeks: advertising on some stories. We’re joining a network of national news organizations that is designed for media outlets from all over the country to share content and, yes, generate revenue. That comes from ads running on content that is widely published by all the organizations in the network. So if we decide to pick up a story from the network, it will come with an ad on it.

Do independent campaign expenditures create potential conflicts?

That was the question raised in an email yesterday from Kioni Dudley, who has been tirelessly working in opposition to the development of the Hoopili project.

He wrote:

A few days ago, I sent you this information we have found about the City Council Members taking huge campaign donations from entities that would profit directly from their vote approving Ho’opili. Unfortunately, everything they did was legal. However, I noted that Forward Progress PAC spent $105,000 to get Brandon Elefante elected, and PRP PAC spent $86,000 to get Carol Fukunaga elected. This support created a conflict of interest for both which they should have declared before voting on Bill 3. I believe we can get their votes invalidated.

It’s an interesting theory.

The City Charter specifically recognizes that legal campaign contributions do not create a conflict of interest. If I read it correctly, these campaign contributions are legal and, by definition, don’t represent a conflict.

Section 11-102. Conflicts of Interest

1. No elected or appointed officer or employee shall:

(a) Solicit or accept any gift, directly or indirectly, whether in the form of money, loan, gratuity, favor, service, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of such person’s official duties. Nothing herein shall preclude the solicitation or acceptance of lawful contributions for election campaigns.

What Dudley then suggests is that spending in support of a candidate by Super Pacs, such as the PRP Pac, are not campaign contributions and, therefore, may be subject to public disclosure as potential conflicts.

I would have to strongly disagree with this assessment.

By definition, campaign expenditures by Super Pacs in support of candidates or in opposition, must be independent of the candidates who benefit. If there’s coordination with the campaigns, then the expenditures have to be considered contributions and will be subject to the standard contribution limits.

So although council members may have benefited from independent spending by Super Pacs, they could not solicit, accept, or control it. And as a result, these expenditures are not covered by the conflict of interest provisions.

I don’t see that there was a duty on the part of the council members to disclose the spending because they would have no direct knowledge of it. And there’s nothing in the applicable ordinances or charter provisions that would require a council member to disclose independent actions by others.

So my answer would be that this is a dead end, unless there’s some kind of evidence of coordination between the pacs and the campaigns. And, in that case, it would create issues under the campaign spending laws and not under the city’s ethics provisions. At least that’s how I would view the situation.

How lunacy becomes reality

I’m on an early flight from San Francisco back to Honolulu this morning, but wanted to recommend this column from Aljazeera America by Larry Beinhart, author of “Wag the Dog”, which was made into a 1997 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

Beinhart argues that the style of “objectivity” adopted by the mainstream media allows crazy ideas to gain legitimacy (“How journalism helps lunacy become reality“).

Beinhart writes:

After the second prime-time Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16, The New York Times published an astonishing editorial. It said the candidates must be “no longer living in a fact-based world” and described what they said as “a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.”

It was about time that someone as authoritative as The New York Times editorial board said it as bluntly as that.

One of the things that made the editorial so striking is that the news coverage of the same events, in the same paper as well as in the rest of the media, treated what the candidates said as almost entirely unremarkable.

That prompts interesting questions. Why was this only an editorial? Why wasn’t it in the news? Shouldn’t it be newsworthy that the leading contenders for the Republican nomination are “no longer living in a fact-based world” and that what they say is “untrue … bizarre … surreal”?

Beinhart targets what he calls “Chinese-menu journalism,” in which reporters are considered to have done their jobs if they quote someone from Column A, and then get a response from an “authority” in Column B. No need to go further.

I’ve commented on this same thing in local news several times in the past.

What drives me mad is that this kind of “he said, she said” reporting takes a straightforward factual question and turns it into a matter of subjective opinion (“who should we believe, this source or the other one?”).

Anyway, I recommend Beinhart’s column.

And if you want to see how this happens in local news, check out my earlier posts, this one from 2009 (”He said-She said” reporting obscures substance of Kamehameha story) and another from 2012 (Getting beyond “he said this, but they said that” reporting).

Kauai rep moves to settle charges of filing inaccurate or incomplete campaign reports

It was somewhat surprising to see the reports yesterday that the Attorney General had filed charges against Kauai Rep. James Tokioka for “recklessly” filing campaign spending reports that were not complete or accurate during last year’s primary election. It was reported last night by KHON (“AG files campaign reporting violation charges against Kauai lawmaker“), and this morning by the Star-Advertiser (“Tokioka settles campaign finance charge“).

The surprise came from several things. First, such complaints are very rare. Second, the complaint was filed back on the afternoon of August 11, 2015. That was two weeks ago, and apparently it went unreported until now. And there wasn’t much attention paid to the investigation earlier.

I did a brief look early this morning for the background.

Hawaii News Now’s Rick Daysog reported in April that cases involving unreported contributions to three legislators had been referred to the AG (“EXCLUSIVE: Attorney general’s office asked to investigate lawmakers“). Tokioka was named, along with Angus McKelvey and Richard Fale.

Daysog reported:

Sources said the commission found that all three collected tens of thousands in campaign contributions last year but did not report them until the reporting discrepancies were flagged by investigators.

Daysog also noted: “Usually, allegations like these lead to civil fines. But because they involved incumbents, sources said the commission believed the violations are intentional and warranted a criminal referral.”

In June, The Garden Island newspaper reported that the case involved a contribution from one of the state’s top lobbyists, George “Red” Morris, and that the AG’s office had asked Tokioka to take a lie detector test (“Tokioka takes polygraph test voluntarily“).

Tokioka acknowledges that his campaign made an error by filing late, and said that a campaign volunteer made an additional clerical error when entering information about a $500 donation from G.A. “Red” Morris, of Capitol Consultants of Hawaii. Tokioka said the reports have since been amended.

Tokioka said that the contribution was inadvertently entered as a personal donation from Morris, when it should have been recorded as a donation from one of Morris’ clients. According to Tokioka, that sparked concern that they were trying to conceal the source of the money.

“It was clearly a simple error and an honest mistake to put his home address on the campaign spending report,” Tokioka said.
Morris did not respond to multiple attempts over several days to reach him for comment.

A quick check of the Campaign Spending Commission website shows that virtually all of Tokioka’s campaign reports filed during 2013 and 2014 were later amended.

Tokioka is Kauai business manager for Oceanic Time Warner Cable, according to his financial disclosure reports.