Controversy over politically-linked Maui donation fund prompts call for transparency

State House Speaker Scott Saiki wants the state to do more to ensure transparency in Maui donations
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 10:27 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 1:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State House Speaker Scott Saiki is asking the state to do more to crack down on fundraising fraud — and ensure transparency in Maui relief donations.

Saiki is also calling on Gov. Josh Green to sign an emergency proclamation that forces fundraisers to disclose how the money will be used. The push comes after questions over where some Maui donation money is going and a brewing controversy around the Maui Community Power Recovery Fund, run partly by former Maui State Rep. Kaniela Ing.

Critics say the non-profit should be more transparent that donations could fund political campaigns. “It doesn’t say the money raised through this website, at least the one I looked at, can be spent on other than charitable causes, for example, other than disaster relief. It can be spent on lobbying activity or candidates running for office,” lawyer Hugh R. Jones said.

Saiki said that “people should be assured that the funds that they donate will be used for the intended purpose and not for other purposes.”

The Governor’s Office says they are reviewing the speaker’s request and urges the public to research the funds they give to.

Ing, meanwhile, is pushing back against criticism. He says there is language on the website that indicates the funds could go to political use.

At this time, Ing claims no money so far has gone to political candidates.

“I’m not getting a dime off of this,” said Ing. “We want to make sure that they are empowered.”

Ing now lives on Oahu but works on progressive climate issues in Washington, D.C., with high-profile lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

He’s visited Maui recently to help get people involved in decision-making.

Ing says his fund has raised at least $650,000 and admits that money could be used to support political candidates who want to help Lahaina rebuild in a way that represents the community.

He says about a quarter of the money raised has been spent — about 75% was direct aid to residents, and the rest paid for things like signs, shirts, and banners. Ing’s supporters in West Maui say helping people organize for the political battles ahead is important.

“We just want to show as people on the ground we trust somebody like Kaniela. For someone who has been in the political seat, he’s so far has been the only one that I can say I trust with doing what is right in the community,” said Paele Kiakona, who has worked directly with Ing.

Regardless of how any Maui recovery funds are spent, Saiki says donors should never be caught by surprise.

“I think that sometimes when people are caught up in the emotion and the graphics or general messaging, they might not really know who are what they are donating for,” Saiki added.

Ing says any donors who aren’t comfortable with how the money might be used can request a refund on