Ben Cayetano and Kirk Caldwell: Candidates for Honolulu Mayor
Ben Cayetano and Kirk Caldwell: Candidates for Honolulu Mayor

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Former Hawaii Campaign Spending Director Robert Watada is accusing Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Kirk Caldwell of participating in a”pay to play” scheme after reviewing dozens of donations Caldwell’s campaign accepted from government rail contractors and employees of the city’s rail authority.

Ben Cayetano, Caldwell’s opponent, has a “truth squad,” which has unveiled a list of 121 contractors and individuals tied to the rail project that have donated to Caldwell during this election season. Some gave the maximum of $4,000, which contributed to Caldwell raising more than $1.3 million.

Cayetano’s campaign, which raised just over $1.2 million, said today: “The number of Kirk Caldwell donors with connections to the rail project is staggering. Most of these individuals have donated thousands of dollars each, with many donating the maximum of $4000. Contrasting that, Ben Cayetano reports no contributions from employees of HART contractors.”

Watada, who became a local hero for his campaign against corruption in government when he was executive director of the Commission from 1994 to 2005, said the donations to Caldwell look like “pay to play” to him.

“This is classic ‘pay to play’,” Watada said. “Caldwell is doing it to the max.”

Watada said: “This is a clear message – ‘make a fat donation and you will be first in line to get government contracts.’  The idea was practiced in New Jersey politics and Chicago politics for years. Caldwell’s mainland advisors are using the same tactics, unions to take the low road, and the candidate takes the high road and hopes to pay off his donors.”

Caldwell has run a series of campaign ads claiming he passed legislation when he was in the state House to clean up Hawaii’s “pay to play” system.

“Pay to play” has become a major campaign issue this election season because Caldwell’s backers have accused his opponent, Ben Cayetano, of accepting illegal campaign contributions in exchange for awarding contracts to his friends when he was governor of Hawaii from 1994 to 2002.

Cayetano has adamantly denied the accusation that has been waged against him in a nearly $3 million media campaign sponsored by the Pacific Resource Partnership and its affiliate the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Watada, the architect of many of the current campaign spending laws, has on several occasions declared Pacific Resource Partnership’s claims to be outright false. He personally investigated Cayetano and several other politicians and cleared Cayetano. Backing Cayetano and Watada are two former Campaign Spending Commissioners and a former FBI agent who worked for Watada investigating corrupt politicians and donors.

Bob Watada, former Campaign Spending Director

Pacific Resource Partnership and the Hawaii Carpenters Union, which represent some 200 construction related contractors, oppose Cayetano’s candidacy because he plans to stop the city’s $5.2 billion rail project and replace it with $1.5 billion flexible bus rapid transit system.

They support Caldwell, because Caldwell pledged to build the rail project, which is currently on hold because of two recent court cases.

Cayetano said today, “On one hand, Kirk claims to be against the connection. But when it comes to his campaign, he is not shy at all. The information in this report my campaign compiled contradicts what he is saying.”

Caldwell’s campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. Should Caldwell respond, his comments will be added into this report.

Watada criticized Caldwell for accepting donations from rail contractors and employees of the city’s rail agency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, while running ads saying he helped to pass legislation to stop the “pay to play” system.

“Caldwell should take the money only if he is a hypocrite,” Watada said.




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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by Reach her at