DC watchdog files complaint over staffer still getting paid from late Takai's coffers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A complaint has been filed with the U.S. Federal Election Commission, claiming late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai's campaign manager violated the law.

Dylan Beesley is under scrutiny for collecting a full-time salary from his old boss for more than a year after Takai died.

The complaint from The Campaign Legal Center says Beesley has been getting $5,700 a month without justification.

But on Thursday, Takai's father-in-law released a statement saying the family authorized Beesley to accept payments while winding down the campaign and setting up Takai's foundation:

Dylan Beesley supported Mark's campaign before Mark's passing and, at our request, has stayed on as campaign treasurer to help manage the campaigns affairs.

He has worked to help us to focus on the next steps so that we could close the campaign down and create a foundation in Mark's name and use it for good causes here in Hawaii. Payments to him during this period were authorized.

We regret that we have been slow to move on this and we appreciate the community's patience as we work through this process. We hope that people understand that our focus has been on keeping our family strong and helping them to move ahead with their lives.

We have created the Mark Takai Foundation and will be moving forward to support the Military and Education causes that Mark championed throughout his career.

We want to express our gratitude to Dylan for his help and support. We also want to say mahalo to the people of Hawaii for all your continued support of Mark's Legacy.

Beesley is now also campaign manager for state Attorney General Doug Chin's campaign for Congress, and that decision is drawing heat.

Chin has said he reviewed Beesley's situation and said he saw no wrongdoing or illegality and would keep him on his campaign.

But Councilman Ernie Martin, who is also running for the vacant First District seat, said defending Beesley "is a serious conflict of interest for the state's top law enforcement officer." Martin said Chin should resign as attorney general.

When Takai died in July 2016, he had more than $1 million in campaign funds. About half of that was returned to donors before the end of the year. Friends and former staff say Takai's family considered turning the rest, about $400,000, into a charitable foundation.

Beesley previously told Hawaii News Now he was expected to wind down Takai's campaign. Reports show Beesley continued to collect a salary of $5,759 a month through the end of September 2017.

It is unclear if he collected the salary after that because the final report for 2017 has not yet been filed.

The salary and other payments to Beesley's company, Lanakila Strategies, amounted to almost $90,000 after Takai died, more than all the other expenses of the campaign combined, including $5,000 distributed among U.S. sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and U.S. reps.Tulsi Gabbard and Nancy Pelosi.

At the end of September, there was about $328,000 left in the account.

Clean campaign advocates and Takai colleagues questioned the posthumous payments.

"Essentially paying themselves a full time salary working on a campaign for somebody who is no longer alive is extremely hard to justify," said Noah Bookbinder, of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

California Congressman Mark Takano, a friend and colleague of Takai's, said he was surprised to learn his campaign was still spending so much.

"Wow, I think people should, would question those practices," he said, "And I don't know that Mark would want to see that happening with the money he raised for reelection."

The Federal Elections Commission wants inactive campaigns closed within six months.

Beesley released this statement to Hawaii News Now on Tuesday:

Understandably, the Congressman's family has had other, more pressing matters to deal with as a result of his passing, before they finally decide how to dispose of the campaign's assets and conclude its activities.  I became treasurer at the request of the late Congressman Takai's family, and I have done my job with their support. Any claim to the contrary is false, and anyone invoking Mark's name or his legacy for their own political gain is unconscionable.

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