Former Campaign Spending Commission Director Accuses Mayoral Candidate Kirk Caldwell of ‘Pay to Play’

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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.






  1. Watada has sold out, his allegations are ridiculous. How can donations to Caldwell be made in order to obtain contracts when they already have the contracts. Maybe they would just like to keep Ben Cayetano from destroying the project, wouldn't that make more sense?

    • Aren't the donations a thank you to Caldwell for the contracts that they have already received and meant as a means to defeat Governor Cayetano who if elected will do all in his power to shut down this ridiculous rail project.

  2. Keith and Chad….in search bar type campaign spending commission hawaii…..the go to candidates and look up ur candidate….you can check what they received and from who as well as what they spent your contribution as well as how many fundraisers they had and where etc etc etc…you can check back to December 31st 2006 thru today for Kirk Caldwell. Check it out yourself….

  3. What is the difference between rail-related businesses contributing to Kirk and bus and taxi-related businesses contributing to Ben? Neither this site nor Civil Beat have addressed this. And what is the difference between PRP accusing Ben of pay-to-play and Friends of Ben accusing Kirk of pay-to-play? Personally, I don't want to see either man become mayor, but I would like to see an unbiased media. What a concept.

    • We've reported on Cayetano's contributions and PACs supporting him in many other stories. This particular one is about rail related donations.

  4. Another day before the election smear by Hawaii reporter. of course, as people pointed out pay to play cant occur unless your an incumbent or maybe have a huge lead in the polls. And in this case, these people already have the contracts. This is all about them not wanting to see Ben win and stop the project. if it was anything else, they would donate to both and hedge their bets. But no hedging here.

  5. Rail contracts are the responsibility of HART not the Mayor. Bob Watada means well by supporting his candidate Ben Cayetano but is losing credibility by making such statements…………From the Bob Watada press conference as reported by Civil Beat…………………………..

    "Yes, there was definitely a culture you could call it in terms of, if you want to get contracts with the city or state, then you had to make contributions," Watada said, sitting next to a bristling Cayetano. "In general, this was happening. I started with the commission in 1996-7. Until I left in 2006, it was ongoing. This is exactly what we investigated."

    Was Ben Cayetano part of the pay-to-play culture?

    "Mr. Cayetano received contributions, his campaign received contributions which were over the limit. If that's what you're asking, yes."

    Were contracts awarded to those companies after the fact?

    "Well, yes. That was part of the system at the time. Maybe it's still ongoing. I don't think it's as much as it was. But at the time, as I said, you had to make contributions in order to get contracts. If you didn't make contributions, illegal or otherwise, you didn't get contracts."

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