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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The heated exchange between two groups with similar names endorsing two different Democratic gubernatorial candidates for this Saturday’s primary election has elevated to legal threats and sunk to name calling.

Bill Spencer, spokesperson for The Hawaii Venture Capital Association, whose group is backing Neil Abercrombie for governor, says the 3-week-old Venture Capital Association of Hawaii is a “sham.” He maintains that the public is confusing the new group, which issued its own endorsement of Mufi Hannemann for governor, with the well-respected, well-established, 21-year old, 3,500-member Hawaii Venture Capital Association.

“They used an almost identical trade name specifically to mislead and confuse the public about HVCA’s legitimate endorsement of Neil Abercrombie.  Forming an organization using a substantially identical name to contradict HVCA’s political endorsement is in bad faith and a dirty trick of the Hannemann campaign,” Spencer says.

Jay Fidell, attorney for the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, sent a demand letter to the Venture Capital Association of Hawaii on September 9, ordering the newly formed organization to cease and desist using its name.

The response to HVCA from Larry Harmon, spokesperson for the Venture Capital Association of Hawaii, came the following day. The September 10 letter wasn’t long, filled with legalese or detailed. Addressed to Fidell, it simply said: “Fuck you.” The letter was cced to Hawaii Reporter.

The background: On July 25, 2010, the HVCA held a gubernatorial forum with former Congressman Neil Abercrombie, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona – all candidates for governor in 2010. The HVCA’s board followed that up on July 29 with an endorsement for Abercrombie over Hannemann and Aiona. The Democratic primary election, which pits Abercrombie against Hannemann, is Saturday, September 18.

Supporters of Hannemann, including some of his former city tech experts, launched their own organization 10 days later, with a similar name. The new organization’s first order of business on September 2 was to issue a public endorsement of Hannemann for governor, former city prosecutor Peter Carlisle for mayor and former Senator Bobby Bunda for lieutenant governor.

The HVCA has already issued two statements to the media in recent days, disclaiming any affiliation with the new group, re-affirming its endorsement of Abercrombie and announcing the cease and desist order.

The September 9 HVCA release digs into the new group’s founders: “… its website used the address of a company affiliated with Stanford Carr for its “Hiring Director.”  Stanford Carr is a principal member of Hannemann’s campaign committee and a close political advisor,” Spencer says.

Spencer, who did not respond directly to the terse September 10 letter from Harmon, says his organization has a two-decade track record of “community service devoted to encouraging the development and growth of venture capital activities in Hawaii, education of entrepreneurs, support for the growth of Hawaii’s technology economy and networking Hawaii business men and women with investors and professional service providers.”

This is not the first endorsement controversy in recent days.

Yesterday, Hannemann sent out an email entitled “Working Together for a Better Hawaii” with positive statements about him from a variety of Hawaii community and political leaders including Hawaii’s two most prominent politicians. To observers, it appeared that both U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka endorsed Hannemann.

So much so, that a spokesperson for Inouye issued a statement today saying: “Senator Inouye has not and will not endorse anyone in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.  The Hannemann campaign contacted Senator Inouye’s office and said they were going to pull comments from a 2009 speech the Senator delivered to the Boy Scouts during their annual dinner.”

Today, two environmental groups, Defend Oahu Coalition, and the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club, also scolded Hannemann for his use of their slogan, Keep the Country COUNTRY, in his campaign ads, making it appear as though he is endorsed by environmental movement.

“… we’re dismayed that a politician who has barely lifted a finger to preserve the Country would have the audacity to steal this well-recognized slogan,” says Tim Vandeveer, co-chair of Defend Oahu Coalition.

“From supporting luxury homes in Laie to supporting development at Turtle Bay, Mr. Hannemann has been a proponent of developing one of the last rural areas on Oahu,” said Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Coordinator. “We respectfully call upon him to withdraw and disavow the advertisement that usurps the Keep the Country COUNTRY slogan.”

The feud between Abercrombie and Hannemann has been long-running and passionate over the last 24 years – in 1986, Hannemann and Abercrombie battled in the primary over Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.

KHON TV 2 News recounts the drama in a May 28, 2010, report detailing an ad that Hannemann ran: “Abercrombie has admitted publicly that he enjoys marijuana and feels the government should be sure that only a good quality is sold.”

Abercrombie denied the charge, but Hannemann won, yet was beat in the general election by Republican Pat Saiki.

Today, Hannemann and Abercrombie exchange almost daily exchange barbs since Hannemann announced his intention to run for Governor in late May. Abercrombie’s campaign has been in full swing since February.

Hannemann immediately criticized Abercrombie for resigning from Congress in February, costing the state $1 million for a special election and ultimately giving the seat to a Republican, Charles Djou (the cost was actually $640,000).

Abercrombie countered that Hannemann should have resigned as Mayor of Honolulu immediately after announcing his intention to run for governor instead of on July 20 as Hawaii law requires and not used his office to promote himself and raise money for his campaign.

Accusations continue to fly between the two camps and their supporters. Anonymous emails and calls continue to pour into Hawaii Reporter about both candidates.

See a related story here:

Hawaii Political Dirty Tricks Go High Tech

Malia Zimmerman, editor for Hawaii Reporter, may be reached at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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