Campaign Spending Campaign fines 'ghost PAC' running ads against Ige

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Campaign Spending Commission has ordered an unregistered political action committee to pay a fine for running political ads without disclosing its organizers or spending to the public.

"Defend Hawaii Now" has been running a TV ad this week.

It includes audio of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard endorsing gubernatorial candidate Colleen Hanabusa and criticizing Gov. David Ige's leadership. It reminds voters of the false missile alert and escape of killer Randall Saito from Hawaii State Hospital.

It's unclear how much money is behind the advertisement, but records filed with Hawaii television stations indicate at least $50,000 has been contracted for broadcast.

Unregistered PACs are often called "ghost PACs" because they time their campaigns to avoid disclosure of organizers and donors, sometimes until very late in an election cycle.

Because the organization has not registered, it's unclear who is behind the ad or who is funding it.

A disclaimer that appears for a few seconds at the end of the ad says that its primary funding comes from Waimea Associates, LLC. State business registration records show Waimea Associates is affiliated with Dennis Mitsunaga.

Mitsunaga owns an engineering firm that did considerable government work especially during the administration of former Mayor Jeremy Harris.

He's a longtime supporter of former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who is supporting Hanabusa in the governor's race.

In two letters to the P.O. box listed on the Defend Hawaii Now disclaimer, the commission orders the organization file its disclosure documents and pay a $500 fine for failing to disclose electioneering file a disclosure of its spending.

The commission says more fines could be forthcoming if the organization fails to file organizational papers.

If Mitsunaga is behind this ghost PAC, it wouldn't be the first time.

In 2016, a PAC called "Save our City" spent more than $330,000 in a campaign to oppose Mayor Kirk Caldwell's run for re-election. The donors and spending were not revealed until about a week before the 2016 general election.

At the time, Mitsunaga issued a statement saying he wanted to match heavy spending by rail supporters on Caldwell's campaign. A message left at Mitsunaga's firm was not returned. The former treasurer of "Save Our City" said she was not aware of the new PAC.

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