EXCLUSIVE: Hotel union's negative campaign targets councilwoman

EXCLUSIVE: Hotel union's negative campaign targets councilwoman
Published: Jul. 25, 2014 at 3:52 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 25, 2014 at 8:33 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the state's largest unions is funding an ugly battle over a city council seat.

Aikea, which was founded by the hotel workers union, has sent thousands of attack mailers targeting Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga.

The ads accused Fukunaga of everything from raising property taxes on the elderly to voting to lower the minimum wage and giving favorable tax treatment to developers.

But Fukunaga said it's a smear.

"It's very disturbing that residents are receiving all of these pieces of misinformation and we're doing our best to correct this misinformation," said Fukunaga.

Added City Council Chairman Ernie Martin:

"I hope this type of mean-spirited attack -- especially with the false accusations -- is something that's unacceptable for anybody in politics," he said.

But the union said it's standing by the ads.

It pointed to several bill that Fukunaga co-sponsored as a state legislator that aimed to increased the so-called tip credit that employers could count against the minimum wages they pay to their workers.

Increasing of this credit, essentially reducing the minimum wage because the union believes workers should be entitled to their entire tips. The bill never passed.

"I actually think they are the truth," said Lisa Grandinetti, an organizer for Aikea.

"Carol chose to ignore working people and instead supports banks and developers."

The union is backing Joli Tokusato, a first-time candidate who now works for the union.

Aikea said it's targeting Fukunaga because she didn't support a union-backed bill that would make it harder to convert hotels into condos. The group believes these conversions are costing Hawaii thousands of hotel jobs.

But Fukunaga said that bill was legally flawed.

Aikea is an independent expenditure committee, or super PAC, founded by the 10,000-member hotel workers union, or UNITE HERE Local 5. It's allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on an election so long as it doesn't coordinate its efforts with candidates.

Tokusato said she had no say in the ads.

"I am a member of Aikea but as soon as I announced my candidacy, I had to stop all affiliations with them. So right now, I have absolutely no contact with them," she said.

"Some people feel that (the ads) might be a little negative but I feel that the people have the right to know what's going on."

Negative ad campaign funded by super PACs tend to be rare in Hawaii elections, with the notable exception of the 2012 mayoral race.

That's when the Pacific Resource Partnership, the Hawaii Carpenters Union's super PAC, spent more than $2 million accusing anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano of corruption.

But PRP, which supports rail, was forced to pay $125,000 to local nonprofits after the former governor sued the group for defamation.

"If this is the way campaigns are going to be operated, it really takes away from what democracy is supposed to be about," Fukunaga said.

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