HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ben Cayetano is fighting back. A union group spent half a million dollars so far to discredit his name but the two time governor and current mayoral hopeful has called in reinforcements.
By now you may have seen the commercials by the Pacific Resource Partnership accusing Ben Cayetano of taking half a million dollars in illegal campaign contributions and using a loophole to not pay it back. So what do the former Campaign Spending Commissioners who were in office at the time of the allegations think about the attack ads?
"A blatant lie and mistruth spread by PRP's commercial is that Governor Cayetano somehow kept the money his campaign committee received. This is simply not true," said Della Au Belatti, former Campaign Spending Commissioner and current State Representative.
"As I looked at the ads I saw they are fraudulent, bogus," said Bob Watada, former Director of the Campaign Spending Commission. "I've been asked what is this controversy about and I liken it to the birther argument with President Obama. There's really nothing to this particular argument."
Watada says if Cayetano had done anything wrong he would not have allowed him to close his campaign account. He says plenty of politicians close one campaign account and open up another and thus don't have to pay back the illegal contributions. He says there is no law against it and it is not a loophole. Illegal contributions come in the form of people donating with false names or over the legal limit.
However Watada does say there was a pay to play culture in Hawaii where contractors only donated to politicians in order to get lucrative government work. He says there is no denying Cayetano was involved in the culture, as was other politicians like Jeremy Harris, Mufi Hannemann, Mazie Hirono, Ed Case and Linda Lingle.
"The contractors knew very well that if you didn't make a contribution you didn't get a contract," said Watada.
"Do you think Ben Cayetano knowingly gave a contract to those companies because they contributed to the campaign?" I asked.
"That I don't know. The way I understand the system he did not know who gave contributions," responded Watada.
"When candidates have a fundraiser we don't really check on what's going on. You take in the money, you run your campaign, you spend it on media or whatever, you spend it," said Cayetano, adding it took the commissioners three years to determine which donations were illegal.
Cayetano also says as governor his procurement team made decisions about dishing out contracts and claims they did not know who gave to his campaigns.
The Pacific Resource Partnership stands by its claims. It goes further criticizing Cayetano for having Dennis Mitsunaga as campaign finance chair, someone Watada investigated for pay to play in the past.
"They're trying to confuse the issue by saying everyone else did it, but the reality is he is running for an office that will give hundreds of millions of dollars in no bid contracts and he has put people in place that were part of that system," said John White, Pacific Resource Partnership.
PRP is an organization made up of 6,500 union carpenters and 220 contractors, some of whom will benefit from the rail project.
"These amateurs have over done it as far as I'm concerned. I tell you what, we're fighting back," said Cayetano.
Cayetano praised opponent Peter Carlisle for not getting involved in the dispute, however he criticized opponent Kirk Caldwell for repeating PRP's message.
"Why do the unions support Kirk Caldwell? Because they know this man won't have the balls, excuse me, doesn't have the will to do any kind of civil service reform," said Cayetano.
"I stand by my comments that PRP and Mr. Whites conduct is entirely hypocritical. Their ads assert that Mr. Cayetano exploited a loophole while they are currently exploiting a huge loophole. Know they are driving a Mack truck through our campaign finance system through a big gaping hole that has been created by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and making a mockery of the ideals of transparency," said Au Belatti.
Cayetano says he is looking into a defamation lawsuit against PRP.