Hawaii congressional candidate accused of using ‘shameless’ tactic to woo dark money ads
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A candidate for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District is being accused of using a new tactic to attract so-called “dark money” advertising by mainland Political Action Committees.
It’s illegal for candidates to directly collaborate with independent PACs, but experts and his opponent say Patrick Branco is openly soliciting for mainland advertising and dictating what the ads should say.
The campaign website for Branco includes a page for media, which experts say lays out exactly how mainland political groups should help in his race.
The approach appears to be the product of an emerging campaign tactic known as Red Boxing.
“This is one of the few bright lines in American campaign finance law that campaigns can’t directly coordinate with a super PAC,” said HNN political analyst Colin Moore. “But this is really exploiting a gray area where you could just put on a website all the things you might like a super PAC to do.”
Branco’s website presents explicit talking points that he wants voters in Hawaii to “see,” “read,” and “hear” ― which critics say is code for television, print, and radio ads.
In addition, his campaign site features a section explaining how to properly use Hawaii-related terminology and features a near half-hour long video clip of silent footage now being used in the mainland-produced advertisements.
“These instructions are particularly remarkable because it’s very clear these are communications to mainland firms,” Moore said. “I mean no one in Hawaii doesn’t know what ohana means, but of course, this is defined on the website. Overall, this is a pretty shameless attempt to communicate with the super PAC.”
While unusual, Moore doesn’t believe it rises to being illegal.
Branco’s website also offers ways to attack his main opponent, Jill Tokuda, which are echoed in a recent PAC-produced ad.
“It’s literally my opponent, you know, on his website, putting a ‘for sale’ sign out there for dark mainland money, and telling them what they should do to help them,” Tokuda said. “Even more sadly, and concerning how they should push me down in a way that, again, I believe, is highly mischaracterized.”
Branco declined HNN’s request for an interview, but his campaign denied collusion.
“Patrick does not believe that outside groups should influence elections, and will work for strong campaign finance reform in Congress,” his campaign said, in a statement.
“He does not and cannot coordinate with any outside group. Any ad an outside group makes, whether it be to support or oppose Patrick’s campaign, explicitly states it is done so without the approval of any candidate. "
Yet, with multiple outside groups spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for Branco, Tokuda is not convinced.
“We’ve got to send a clear message back to them that Hawaii is not for sale,” Tokuda said. “This is our election. This is our congressional district.”
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