Bob Watada is Hawaii's former Campaign Spending Director who cracked down on illegal campaign contributions
Bob Watada is Hawaii's former Campaign Spending Director who cracked down on illegal campaign contributions

BY BOB WATADA – My name has been invoked in a series campaign advertisements attacking the character of Hawaii’s former Governor, Ben Cayetano. I want to set the record straight.

The Campaign Spending Commission appointed me as the executive director in 1994. Gov. Cayetano pushed for and enacted Act 10 into law in 1995. Act 10 was a far-reaching, 62-page measure that ultimately put an end to many of Hawaii’s rampant political corruption practices.

The campaign spending laws at that time were weak, ineffective and largely unenforceable. There was little transparency for the public and no accountability for politicians or donors.

Shocking practices once allowed under Hawaii law were ended by Gov. Cayetano’s passage of Act 10.

For example, businesses donated thousands of dollars to politicians, especially at the county level, in hopes of securing contracts, zoning and permits. We called it “pay to play”, but that was not illegal.

What was illegal was “quid pro quo,” where in exchange for donations, companies received favors from politicians. Act 10 helped make the process more transparent so these illegal acts could be tracked and stopped.

Other examples, politicians were accepting large loans to their campaigns but not reporting where the money came from;”Ghost” advertisements were legal, and allowed anonymous attack ads against a candidate; and political action committees, donors and other organizations had almost no detailed reporting requirements.

It was common for politicians to turn in illegible handwritten reports, which were then stuffed into cabinets never to see the light of day. No one wanted to go through the files because they were stored in a small dark room populated with mice.

Because Gov. Cayetano passed Act 10:

  • All noncandidate committees were told to submit detailed reports.
  • Government contractors were mandated to report campaign donations.
  • Politicians for major offices were required to file their reports electronically so the public could access them.
  • The Commission was able to invest in networked computers and an electronic filing system to make reports more accessible to the public and media.
  • Today, campaign spending reports are filed on-line and are immediately available for review.

With funding that came with Act 10, the Commission could move to a bigger office, where the public could access files and make complaints. The Commission could also hire an attorney and investigators to subpoena records, conduct audits and field investigations, and levy administrative fines.

The law helped weed out corruption. Several politicians went to prison and more than 100 contractors were fined for making excessive or “false name” contributions, which meant they illegally funneled money to politicians through family members, friends and employees. Today, state contractors are prohibited from giving donations to any candidate committees.

Ironically, misleading attack ads by PACs opposing Cayetano, and favoring the construction of the city’s $5.2 billion rail that Cayetano opposes, harken back to the days before reforms were enacted. The public is again in the dark, not knowing who the donors are behind these shady groups.

What we do know is these organizations are comprised of hundreds of contractors and developers who stand to benefit from lucrative rail related government contracts.

Gov. Cayetano is one of the most honest people I know. He was always a proponent for good government. He passed ground-breaking legislation that helped recruit qualified, independent commissioners and staff, gave them the tools to make long overdue changes, allowed the Commission to operate without political interference, and ended politically corrupt practices in place for decades.

Bob Watada served as the Executive Director of the Hawaii State Campaign Spending Commission from 1994 to 2005.

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