Maui Resident Files Complaint Against SuperPAC Donor

September 23, 2014, 8:27 AM HST · Updated September 23, 10:31 AM
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Karen Chun.

Karen Chun.

By Wendy Osher

Political activist Karen Chun of Maui has filed a complaint with the Hawaiʻi Campaign Spending Commission alleging that the Hawaiʻi Carpenters Recovery Market Fund has violated state law by not disclosing the original source of their funds.

Chun said this is in violation of sections §11-351(c) and §11-353 of Hawaiʻi law.  She also alleges the group violated the law by keeping their contributions anonymous and listing their own name as the source of each of their contributions to the Forward Progress superPAC (political action committee).

“The Fund is the sole source of contributions to the superPAC, Forward Progress which has spent over $100,000 supporting Kaʻala Buenconsejo,” said Chun in a statement.

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Without “adequate disclosure,” Chun said it is unclear where the source of contributions are coming from.

Buenconsejo is running for the West Maui Council seat against incumbent Elle Cochran.

In a phone interview with Buenconsejo on Monday afternoon, he old Maui Now, “There is absolutely no correlation or tie to my campaign.”

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In interviews with various media outlets, Buenconsejo said he’s been the first to advocate stopping the mailers, but has not attempted to contact the PAC directly because of the risk that would result, and the anticipated false perception that would arise of him coordinating with the group.

According to a definition listed in the Oxford Dictionaries a super PAC is described as, “a type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates.”

“There is no coordination whatsoever,” he said.  While he does wish the flood of mailers backing him as a candidate would stop, he said, “I do appreciate the support,” and said, “it just goes to show that people want change.”

Buenconsejo said that while he is endorsed by a separate entity, the Carpenters Union, he said “paving over Maui is not my platform.” Instead he described his stance as “pro-development when it comes to affordable housing that our working families can live in.”

Chun is asking the Campaign Spending Commission to compel the Hawaiʻi Carpenters Recovery Market Fund to disclose the original sources of their contributions and reveal who is paying for the mailers on Maui.

“Without this information, we can only speculate what big money interests are interfering in our election,” said Chun.

While representatives with Forward Progress said they had not seen the complaint, they did release a statement explaining, “Forward Progress is an independent expenditure formed to help voters understand where candidates stand on the important issues facing Hawaiʻi. Forward Progress supports candidates who have a desire, commitment and plan to make Hawaiʻi the kind of place where residents want to live and can afford to live.”

Media contact, Kris M. Tanahara responded via email calling the complaint, “baseless.”  She also noted that by law, there can be no coordination between candidates and a PAC.

While Chun is citing state law in her complain, there is a federal law that could be a factor as well. Under a 2010 federal case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the US Supreme Court ruled that political expenditures by nonprofit organizations cannot be restricted under the first amendment.

According to the Supreme Court of the US blog, “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.”

According to tax return data compiled on the website propublica.org, the Hawaiʻi Carpenters Recovery Market Fund is a nonprofit 501 (c)(5) group that is described as a “Labor, agricultural and horticultural organizations that are educational or instructive, including unions, created for the purpose of improving conditions of work, and products of efficiency.”

When calling the phone number for the Hawaiʻi Carpenters Recovery Market Fund listed on the Better Business Bureau website, the automated message identifies itself as the Pacific Resource Partnership.

The Pacific Resource Partnership website says it “represents the Hawaiʻi Regional Council of Carpenters, the largest construction union in the state, and over 240 diverse contractors ranging from mom-and-pop owned businesses to national companies.”  The PRP describes itself as “the backbone of Hawaiʻi’s construction industry,” saying the group works to build homes and businesses, create neighborhoods, revitalize communities, and strengthen infrastructure.

Chun said she sent the complaint via priority mail on Monday to the Campaign Spending Commission. She said she also plans to file a complaint today against Forward Progress, alleging they did not fill out the candidate column, explaining the purpose of a $156,446 expenditure on a Schedule D report to the commission filed for the period covering July 26 to Aug. 9, 2014.

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