The state Campaign Spending Commission wants longtime state lawmaker Romy Cachola to pay back more than $64,000 in campaign money that allegedly went to his personal use.
Hawaii News Now has learned that the commission also is seeking to fine the Kalihi Democrat nearly $4,000 for dipping into his political coffers to buy a Nissan Pathfinder and to purchase dozens of meals at local restaurants.
"It does look fairly suspicious and is probably indicative of a culture where this is common practice and where he didn't think anyone would catch him or investigate it," said University of Hawaii Political Science Professor Colin Moore.
In an eight-page complaint, the commission cited hundreds of questionable expenditures, including:
-- $30,437 to purchase a Nissan SUV in 2008;
-- $21,827 to gas, insure and keep the car running for nearly six years;
-- $9,194 in food and beverage purchases;
-- and, $2,774 in public relations expenses.
As part of the investigation, the commission placed Cachola under surveillance for a week back in January. Investigators for the Attorney General's office tracked Cachola's use of his SUV and found that none of his trips that week were campaign related.
Instead, Cachola was seen driving his car to a church and to his office at the state Capital. He also used the car to drive to the Honolulu Country Club twice.
Cachola could not be reached but his attorney said the lawmaker is cooperating with the investigation.
The Campaign Spending Commission will take up the matter at its monthly meeting on Wednesday.
If the commission approves the complaint, Cachola must reimburse his campaign from his own personal bank account. The fines also have to come out of his back pocket.
The campaign probe comes as the City Ethics Commission has opened a separate investigation into Cachola for billing city taxpayers $13,000 in car allowances.
Those city reimbursements came at the same time Cachola, then a City Councilman, billed his campaign to gas up and keep his car running.
"This is going to breed more cynicism in government," said Moore.
"Why would (people) want to pay taxes when they think their elected representatives are using funds inappropriately? Why would they vote if they think the system is largely corrupt?"