State investigates group behind new Caldwell attack ads

State investigates group behind new Caldwell attack ads
Published: Oct. 20, 2016 at 10:22 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 21, 2016 at 1:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Campaign Spending Commission is taking a close look at a political action committee that's planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars criticizing Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The PAC -- Save Our City LLC -- lists no contributions from donors and no expenditures even though its already spent thousands on television and radio ads and on political signs.

"They're a smear if you ask me, we're disappointed in them," said attorney Lex Smith, chairman of Caldwell's re-election committee. "We tried to see who's behind them and we can't."

The committee is headed by local small businesswoman Sarah Houghtailing, who owns TJ's Sports Bar and Grill downtown. She declined to identify her backers but said that all of the ads are truthful.

"What's the definition of smear. Getting the truth out there? If that's a smear I guess it is," Houghtailing said. "These are all  facts. It's not like I'm pulling these out of the sky."

State law requires PACs to file what's known as an electioneering communications report within 24 hours of spending more than $2,000. Sources said Save Our City has spent at least $5,000 at one television station.

Some people call these committees ghost PACs because the public doesn't see who's behind them and how much they're giving until days before the election.

"There's just no transparency, the public doesn't know where this money is coming from," said University of Hawaii political science Professor Colin Moore.

"When you have a group that pretends to be a grassroots organization or a genuine political movement that might be funded by a handful of wealthy people, really the public doesn't get the right impression."

Save Our City isn't the only PAC spending big money on the mayor's race.

Workers for a Better Hawaii, led by the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the state AFL-CIO, is spending nearly $300,000 on behalf of Caldwell.

"But unlike Save Our City, the pro-union PAC has made the appropriate disclosures on who's contributing and how much it is spending," Smith said.
"There's pure transparency about who they are," he said.

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