BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU- Hawaii Campaign Spending Commissioners sanctioned Rep. Karen Awana on Wednesday, issuing the maximum fine of $8,590 against her for 54 violations of the state’s campaign spending law.
Awana resigned Friday as Democrat House Majority Leader after the Commission staff notified her she’d likely face steep fines for nine counts of filing false or inaccurate reports, 24 counts for untimely campaign donation deposits and failure to keep records.
In 2012, the Commission fined Awana twice in the amounts of $6,800 and $400 for the exactly the same types of violations. She paid of the final $800 in fines this week for violations dating back to 2008.
Three of the four commissioners told Awana they agreed with recommendations by commission General Counsel Gary Kam to fine Awana the maximum, because she has had a history of violating the campaign spending law, she’s had previous fines, and poor communication with the commission staff. She has been slow to provide the staff members with information they requested, such as receipts to back up expenditures. All four commissioners present voted unanimously for the fine.
Before the commissioners voted to sanction Awana, they heard a report from Kam, who explained he had subpoenaed Awana’s bank records again this year because she sent a $3,800 payment to pay for previous fines and the check bounced. She had just reported having $16,000 in her Friends of Karen Awana campaign bank account and “no activity.” Kam said the $3,800 check would not have bounced if Awana had $16,000 in her account.
The bank records Kam obtained showed Awana had 54 different suspicious activities, including purchases of items as small as $3.03 for Baskin & Robbins ice cream, but she could only produce receipts upon request for three of the items. Under Hawaii law, candidates and elected officials must keep records for five years.
Kam said he was surprised Awana claimed to have “no activity” when she filed her most recent report after she’d submitted a notice of holding a fundraiser in April, meaning she typically would have campaign contributions and expenditures.
The commissioners heard brief testimony from Awana herself. She apologized and said she has been having difficulty in securing volunteers to serve as her campaign chair and treasurer.
Awana relied on House Vice Speaker John Mizuno to present a plan to commissioners to rectify her pattern of illegal behavior.
Mizuno, who maintained he was testifying as her close friend and not the House Vice Speaker, said Awana is committing to no longer touching her own campaign funds, and will relinquish the campaign debit card. She also closed her Friends of Karen Awana campaign account and will reopen one with a clean slate under “Ohana for Awana.” (Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language). In addition, Awana now has a treasurer to help her manage her account.
The Commission could refer Awana’s case to the city prosecutor for further investigation or the prosecutor could independently look into Awana’s campaign finances. She maintained today that she had not spent any of her campaign funds for personal use.
House Speaker Joseph Souki accepted Awana’s resignation as majority leader last Friday and replaced the four-term Democrat with Rep. Rida Cabanilla.
Souki said it’s his hope the House “can move ahead” and name Awana as chairman of the newly created Committee on Culture and the Arts & International Affairs in the upcoming legislative session.