BY JIM DOOLEY
Engineering consultant Dennis Mitsunaga’s company gave $30,000 to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s inauguration “because I was so happy he won,” Mitsunaga said today.
Mitsunaga gave twice as much as any other donor to the Abercrombie Inaugural Ball and the donation came on top of $54,000 in political contributions made to Abercrombie’s gubernatorial campaign by Mitsunaga and 15 of his employees and relatives, campaign spending records show.
Mitsunaga and his wife also gave $50,000 to the Hawaii Democratic Party for its general election advertising campaign last year that helped Abercrombie and other party candidates.
Nikki Love, head of the local chapter of Common Cause, noted that the inauguration cash gifts are not classified as campaign contributions and do not have to be publicly disclosed. Abercrombie made the list public voluntarily.
“Disclosure of these donors may not be required by law, but it should be. We commend Gov. Abercrombie for voluntarily releasing the names, and it is a good step in the direction of greater transparency for money in politics,” said Love.
She noted that Mitsunaga’s $30,000 gift to the inaugural was five times higher than the maximum political contribution allowed under state campaign spending laws.
“Perhaps we should consider disclosure as well as maximum dollar limits on inaugural donations,” Love said.
But Mitsunaga said he didn’t consider the $30,000 a political gift nor was he trying to burnish his chances at landing consultant contracts from the Abercrombie administration.
When the inaugural ball – held December 9 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel – was being organized, there was some doubt that enough money could be collected to reserve the hotel space, Mitsunaga said.
“First it was going to be at the Sheraton, but then Neil wanted to go the Hilton,” said Mitsunaga, who noted that his longtime office manager, Terri Otani, helped with the inaugural preparations.
“They needed so much money in hand to reserve the place, so that’s why I committee the $30,000,” said Mitsunaga.
He said he was so generous in his financial support of Abercrombie because the governor “is such a terrific guy.”
“I really like him,” continued Mitsunaga. “I’ve known him 20 years. I supported him since he was in Congress.”
Mitsunaga said he first met Abercrombie when both men worked on the election campaign of Gov. Ben Cayetano, a close friend of Mitsunaga.
“He’s just a straight shooter. He tells it like it is. I just really like him,” said Mitsunaga of Abercrombie.
The list of inaugural donors released by Abercrombie’s office yesterday detailed nearly $672,000 given by private donors.
Money left over after expenses will be donated to charities including the Hawaiian Humane Society and Meals on Wheels, according to Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.
Mitsunaga and Otani were investigated but never charged in the state Campaign Spending Commission’s investigation of “pay to play” campaign contributions linked to government consulting jobs.
The pair in 2004 underwent private polygraph exams to demonstrate their innocence.
Mitsunaga’s companies, including Mitsunaga & Associates, received millions of dollars in consulting work from the Cayetano administration and even more from the administration of Gov. Linda Lingle. The company received virtually no city work when Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann was in office. Hannemann opposed Abercrombie in last year’s gubernatorial primary election.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Mitsunaga’s company received no work from the Lingle administration.