FEC says Kahele congressional campaign must return $48K

If he plans to refund all $48,000, he may have to use his personal funds.
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 5:43 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:32 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Federal Election Commission says U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele’s congressional committee must refund more than $48,000 to its political donors.

That’s because the contributors donated for the November 2022 general election, which Kahele didn’t run in.

“You can keep money that was donated to you for an election you’re running in, but you can’t accept donations from elections you didn’t run in,” said University of Hawaii political science Professor Colin Moore.

“I think an action like this from the FEC was inevitable. I mean, there’s a very long and extensive paper trail to any campaign donation and this rule is really clear.”

The federal watchdog agency listed more than two dozen contributions that were made to Kahele for the congressional general election that now have to be returned.

Kahele ended up not running for re-election in that race but instead ran for governor in the Aug. 13 Democratic primary, which he lost.

In its letter, the FEC asked Kahele’s campaign what corrective action it plans to take and to send any photocopies of checks that it refunds.

The FEC also said it could also open a formal investigation if it doesn’t received a response by Dec. 19.

“Failure to adequately respond ... could result in an audit or enforcement action,” wrote T.D. Robertson, senior campaign finance analyst with the FEC.

This is just the latest political headache for the outgoing congressman.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee is investigating Kahele for potential conflict of interests for co-sponsoring bills that affect the airline industry while he worked as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot.

The state Campaign Spending Commission also fined his campaign $1,000 for using an old list of Gov. David Ige’s donors to solicit contributors for his campaign.

Kahele did not respond to our requests for comment.

If he plans to refund all $48,000, he may have to use his personal funds.

That’s because federal campaign records show that his congressional campaign has less than $34,000 in the bank.