Gov. Neil Abercrombie dances with House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla (courtesy Facebook)
Gov. Neil Abercrombie dances with House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla (courtesy Facebook)
Gov. Neil Abercrombie dances with House Majority Floor Leader Rida Cabanilla (courtesy Facebook)

HONOLULU — House Majority floor leader Rida Cabanilla is out of a job after losing the Democratic primary to Matt LoPresti.

Hawaii Reporter was first to report in May that Cabanilla controlled a 501-c-3 nonprofit that received a $100,000 grant from the Hawaii State Legislature, which had lost its federal tax-exempt status with the IRS when it neglected to file required paperwork for at least three years.

Cabanilla told Hawaii Reporter she filed paperwork with the IRS for the Ewa Historical Society Inc. to rectify the issue, but that was after she already applied for — and was granted — funding from the Legislature. Cabanilla had not told fellow lawmakers she controlled the charity – or that it was out of IRS compliance – before they granted the charity’s request, and her name did not appear anywhere on the application submitted to the Legislature.

The Old Ewa Cemetery, a historic site founded in 1896, has been owned by the city and county of Honolulu since the 1970s and is maintained by the city and county and volunteers, including descendants of people buried there.

Former City Council Member Berg, who lives in Ewa, noted the charity applied in January for a $200,000 grant from the Legislature to hire three landscapers at $42,000 a piece and three grounds keepers at $23,000 each to take care of the 3-acre Old Ewa Cemetery.

If the grant had been awarded it would have equated to $17,000 a month in state funding going toward maintenance, in addition to what the city already does monthly, Berg said.

Since the Legislature awarded Cabanilla’s charity just half the money it requested, she told Hawaii Reporrter, “The $100,000 is just for weed whacking.”

Cabanilla explained she originally listed six positions on the application because she didn’t want anyone to work at the cemetery alone because of safety concerns, including sink holes near graves and ghost sightings. The state attorney general said in July that Cabanilla’s charity would not receive the grant because of the tax filing issue.

The controversy over the cemetery isn’t the only one that likely contributed to Cabanilla’s political demise.

In Nov. 2013, the state Campaign Spending Commission fined Cabanilla $500 for filing “false or inaccurate” campaign spending reports and $50 for filing the reports late. Cabanilla held a fundraiser in March 2013, which raised nearly $5,800 and expended nearly $2,900. Her campaign spending report said she had no activity during that period. She apologized publicly for her “error.”

In January, Cabanilla brought media coverage after she proposed solving Hawaii’s financial troubles by legalizing cultivating, manufacturing and exporting marijuana and marijuana food products internationally.

In July, Cabanilla proposed implementing “Return to Home,” which would set aside $100,000 over three years to buy homeless people from the U.S. mainland one-way airfare home. Cabanilla said giving the homeless airline tickets would reduce the ever-growing problem of homelessness in Hawaii and ensure the homeless can reconnect with family and support networks in their home states.

Neither the governor nor the state Department of Human Services, the agency that establishes and administers the program under state law, has implemented it. The Department of Human Service director said she believes the program would attract more homeless people to Hawaii.

In the general election, LoPresti will take on Berg, who is running as a Libertarian. Brian Jeremiah, a New Hope pastor who reformed himself after criminal past, is running as a Republican.

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