LIHUE, KAUAI – Hawaii’s highly competitive U.S. Senate race is getting national attention, but not the kind that at least one of the leading candidates appreciates.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hi, a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014, is the target of a Federal Elections Commission complaint filed by attorney Daniel Hempey on Tuesday.
Hempy, an attorney and managing partner at Hempey & Meyers LLP in Lihue, Kauai, has asked the FEC to investigate links between the Hanabusa campaign and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobby.
The complaint alleges improper coordination between her congressional office, her campaign and the PhRMA lobby on a political advertising campaign in violation of federal campaign spending law.
Hempey said the connection came to light two weeks ago in a Washington Post article that documented communication between Hanabusa’s most senior aide, her chief of staff, and two members of her campaign staff detailing the fact that PhRMA intended to pull together an independent expenditure on behalf of Hanabusa.
Deputy Chief of Staff Christopher Raymond, who sent emails to Hanabusa’s advisers that reportedly laid out the plan and offered to put PhRMA executives in touch with Hanabusa’s advisers, resigned Thursday after the complaint received national attention.
In a statement issued Thursday, Raymond said: “I have not violated any campaign finance laws, and it is unfortunate what a distraction this misunderstanding has become. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is the most qualified person to serve as Hawaii’s next U.S. senator and I have been honored and privileged to work for her. This is a once-in-a-generation Senate race and, as such, the conversation should be focused on Colleen’s proven track record and clearly demonstrated leadership. In an effort to bring the conversation back to what’s important Colleen’s vast experience and myriad accomplishments I am resigning my position as deputy chief of staff effective immediately. I wish her, the congressional staff, and the people of Hawaii the very best.”
Peter Boylan, spokesperson for Hanabusa’s campaign, said on Wednesday neither Hanabusa, nor the campaign, had any comment on the complaint.
However on Thursday, Hanabusa issued a brief statement about her deputy chief of staff’s resignation. “Chris Raymond worked hard to help me represent the people of Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District and his efforts helped build a better future for my constituents. I want to thank Chris for his service and I wish him well in all of his future endeavors.”
Boylan told the Washington Post in response to a July 27 story about the email that Raymond “made inaccurate assumptions about the type of help PhRMA could provide the campaign.”
PhRMA spokesman Matt Bennett told the Washington Post that PhRMA did not offer to do a campaign on Hanabusa’s behalf but had preliminary discussions about hosting an industry fundraiser for Hanabusa through its political action committee.
Bennett also told the Washington Post that a PhRMA lobbyist spoke to Jennifer Sabas, Hanabusa’s campaign adviser, about the state of the Democratic primary campaign in Hawaii.
“The context of this complaint is a debate over whether elderly people are going to pay more or less for their medicine. I saw that the candidates were split on that issue. And I was shocked to learn that the Hanabusa campaign appeared to be actively coordinating with those same corporations that would profit from her position, to the detriment of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Hempey said in a statement.
Hanabusa is running against U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in the 2014 Democratic primary. Schatz, Hawaii’s former lieutenant governor, was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat in December 2012 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the vacancy left when U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye died. Inouye had asked in a letter he reportedly wrote to Abercrombie from his deathbed that Hanabusa be appointed to his seat. There are currently no Republicans vying for the Senate seat.