Community Leaders Denounce PRP Hawaii’s Latest Attack on Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Ben Cayetano

IS IT A CRIME? Former Gov. Ben Cayetano convinced campaign spending commissioners to refer his complaint against a super PAC that targeted him during the 2012 election to the prosecutor for further criminal action
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Ben Cayetano

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – John White of Pacific Resource Partnership, who already allocated some $900,000 to attacking the record and character of former Gov. Ben Cayetano in hopes of knocking him out of the Honolulu mayor’s race, released another attack advertisement yesterday.

This time, he cited a letter from Tad Ono, who White describes as “a Hawaii engineer with extensive experience with the state contracting process.”


Ono is actually a former Parsons Brinkerhoff senior executive – and the company he worked for secured the most lucrative contract to date to manage the rail project. When he was heading Parsons, the company launched and funded the rail advocacy group, Go Rail Go.

Parsons has won some $456 million in rail related contracts from the city.  Neither White nor Ono acknowledge Ono’s connection to the rail project.

Ono is claiming that when Cayetano was governor, Cayetano did nothing to stop the “pay to play” culture and in fact vetoed a bill in 2002 that would have prevented government contractors from donating to politicians.

Ono wrote: “Pay-to-play” is getting a lot of attention during this election year, with charges of “smears” and “lies” hurled between opposing campaigns, but this shouldn’t be dismissed as a political attack by one group against another. Pay-to-play is real and has been part of Hawaii’s political culture for decades.

“I know because I am a retired engineer who managed the Hawaii businesses of two different engineering companies. I hope my speaking out will in some way give voice to my fellow engineers who have been robbed of their dignity, integrity and honor. …

“I retired in May of 2010 and witnessed favoritism in the A&E [architects & engineers] selection process on numerous occasions, practiced by previous administrations in both the state and city governments. Few bothered to challenge the awarding of contracts to those who “paid to play” because speaking out would guarantee no future work on government projects.

“In 2002, the Legislature passed a bill to ban direct political contributions from government contractors and corporations to county and state elected officials who issue contracts. It was vetoed [by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano], even though supporters said it was the most significant campaign finance reform bill in decades. … The ban would have been a good first step, but the veto stopped any chance to weaken the pay-to-play culture. …

“As long as elected officials permit their campaign contributors to exercise influence, the “pay-to-play” system will continue. I hope the people will finally wake up and refuse to elect such officials. We don’t need “pay-to-play” in Hawaii.”

Cliff Slater

Cliff Slater, retired businessman, founder of and a lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to stop the rail project, said: “Ono tells us in a Star Advertiser op/ed (8/1/12), ‘I am a retired engineer who managed the Hawaii businesses of two different engineering companies. I hope my speaking out will in some way give voice to my fellow engineers who have been robbed of their dignity, integrity and honor.’

“This is chutzpah of the highest order,” Slater said. “Ono does not tell readers he was until recently the Parsons Brinckerhoff principal in Honolulu. In that role, he assumedly was the one who gave the orders for PB employees to donate heavily to mayoral campaigns, and for the funding of Go Rail Go.”

“As for his claim that ‘my fellow engineers who have been robbed of their dignity, integrity and honor,’ no one ordered Ono to play the games he did, nor other PB engineers. They have free will, they can always quit, as did many other PB engineers over the omissions and distortions in their work on the rail project,” Slater said.

Ono and his colleagues could always join the clear majority of Hawaii’s engineers and architects who do not pay-to-play and which has cost them dearly in lost business, Slater said, but has left them “their dignity, integrity and honor.”

“On the other hand that would mean giving up their share of the hundreds of millions of dollars PB has already garnered from the rail project with hundreds of millions more to come,” Slater said.

Former Campaign Spending Director Bob Watada reviewed the new allegations from White and Ono.

He said yesterday the 2002 legislation cited by Ono was an “insignificant bill” that Cayetano vetoed “because it would have not accomplished anything” but “would have covered up the larger problem of lawmakers receiving large donations (PAY) for favors (PLAY).”

PRP chief executive John White (PRP photo)

Watada, who sets the record in a new advertisement released by the Cayetano campaign yesterday, said “people have forgotten or never knew that Cayetano was always doing what he thought best for the people of Hawaii.”

“John White and his friends think that a Governor or Mayor can stop ‘pay to play.’  This is really disingenuous.  Pay to play is not illegal, and is a part of the political process in almost every campaign for elective office in the United States.  Simply, people, contractors, unions and most other donors make contributions (PAY) in the hopes or expectation that they will get something in return (PLAY) once the candidate is elected into office. Pacific Resource Partnerships is heavily funded (PAY) by the construction unions and rail contractors in order to get the jobs (PLAY) expected from rail construction.  John White was funded by the same contractors and unions when he ran for City Council in 2010 in the hopes that he would get elected and steer contracts their way.”

Watada said the real illegal problem is “quid pro quo,” a direct connection between the giving and receiving.

The former Governor of Illinois is now in prison because this type of connection was established, Watada noted.

“While I was at the Campaign Spending Commission we spent a great deal of time looking into the records of Mayor Frank Fasi, Governor John Waihee, Mayor Jeremy Harris, Governor Ben Cayetano, and Lt Governor Mazie Hirono.  We did not find any occasion that would rise to a prosecutable level (there was considerable anecdotal evidence in the case of then Mayor Jeremy Harris).

“The prosecutors Peter Carlisle and Randy Lee will tell you that we looked at a lot of information and talked to many contractors, but, in the end, insufficient evidence to prosecute (Remember Harris hired McCorriston to stonewall any investigation of Harris and McCorriston filed suit against me to stop my probing). We also investigated a number of Architect and Engineer contractors but did not have information sufficient to refer to the prosecutor.”

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

Watada said the Campaign Spending Commission investigators uncovered many interesting trends:

  • Many of the Architects and Engineers who were donating (PAY) but, felt that they were not getting (PLAY) their share of contracts, and blamed the Governor or Mayor.
  • In other cases, contractors who did not give one cent to a candidate, received contracts.
  • and a number of firms did not want to even compete for any State or County contracts, because of the perceived need to give (PAY).

“When there is money involved in an election, there is the perception that you need to give in order to receive consideration for favors.  That is the system.  In US politics, few want to change the system,” Watada said.

Watada recounted many political scandals in Hawaii that the commission helped uncover while he was executive director from 1995 to 2006. Watada said:

  • Bishop Estate made donations to specific lawmakers to the point that they ran the legislature ($48,000 a year to Rep. Terrance Tom);
  • Banks employed lawmakers (PAY) to guide legislation favorable to them (PLAY);
  • Sen. Cal Kawamoto, D-Waipahu, was essentially running the state Department of Transportation for the highway contractors that gave to him handsomely.
  • Lawmakers allocated millions of dollars to favorite charities, sometimes located at their own campaign headquarters.

“It was on Gov. Cayetano’s watch that Bishop Estate and many other abuses of taxpayer money was brought to an end,” Watada said.  “Cayetano also took on the public unions, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which led to a bitter strike (HSTA had given considerably to Ben Cayetano and felt they should be rewarded).  He also made major inroads into reforming an antiquated civil service system, which really annoyed the HGEA bosses, and he made changes in the state retirement system which irked the civil servants who thought they were deserving of the gravy since they supported him.”

“Gov. Cayetano told me the other day that he came out of retirement after 10 years because he could not stand idly by as a few union members and government contractors got rich while his kids, grandkids and all the common people of Hawaii get soaked in higher taxes for years to come.  Ben Cayetano as Mayor of Honolulu will be good for Hawaii,” Watada added.

Cayetano is one of three major Honolulu mayoral candidates in the August 11 primary. The other two, Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell, support the city’s $5.2 billion, 20-mile elevated steel on steel rail project.





  1. What hold does White have on PRP? Spending $900,000 on ridiculous attack adds on Cayetano? Are there Board of Directors at PRP who should hold White accountable? Or does he have sole control over that PAC and can spend any amount of money and make any charges he wants?

    I know if I was a contributor (which I’m not) I would move to have him fired.

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