EXCLUSIVE: State lawmaker faces new campaign fines

EXCLUSIVE: State lawmaker faces new campaign fines
Published: Oct. 4, 2013 at 1:03 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 7:00 PM HST
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State Rep. Karen Awana
State Rep. Karen Awana

State Rep. Karen Awana is in hot water with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission again.

The Nanakuli Democrat faces an $8,500 fine for failing to account for 50 expenditures made by her campaign since 2011.

"She didn't report the contributions and she reported no expenditures when she had expenditures," said Gary Kam, the commission's general counsel.

"Some of the transactions involved checks written to the candidate herself and to cash."

The questionable purchases --- totaling nearly $6,200 -- included meals at Pizza Hut, Denny's, Tanioka's and other restaurants.

Awana also used campaign money to buy items at Walmart, Jamba Juice and Baskin Robbins.

"We've been trying for a while to get her to comply with our disclosure laws. It's been difficult," said Kam.

"We want to make sure the candidate is not using campaign funds for personal use."

Hawaii News Now spoke briefly with Awana, who declined comment because she hasn't seen the commission's complaint.

Political analysts say questionable expenditures undermine the public's confidence in the legislative process.

"Even if it doesn't end up to be a huge amount of money ... a lot of people are suspicious of campaign contributions. They are suspicious of the way politicians spend them," said University of Hawaii Political Science Professor Colin Moore.

"So any hint there is of corruption or that members of the legislature are spending them in an inappropriate way does even more damage."

The commission has already levied several fines against Awana for failing to accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures. She was fined $6,800 last year for similar reporting problems and $1,900 in 2011.

Kam says Awana still owes about $800 for her past fines.

The commission says it uncovered the questionable expenditures after Awana bounced a check intended to pay for a previous fine issued by the commission. At the time, Awana's campaign said it has about $16,000 in its bank accounts.

Subpoenas for the Awana campaign's bank account at Central Pacific Bank turned up the most recent discrepancies.

"We trust that people who are elected to office and decide on what the budget is going to be for the state of Hawaii also have their own financial ship in order," Kam said.

The commission will discuss the fine at its meeting on Wednesday. Board members can vote to uphold the fine, dismiss it or refer it back to the commission's staff for further work.

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.