Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Harris trips raise
questions of fund’s use

A local politician wins re-election and has extra money in his campaign war chest.

Some of that money is used to pay for the politician and his wife to go to the mainland to discuss, among other things, the politician's political future in Hawaii.

Is that proper?

The campaign organization for Mayor Jeremy Harris believes it is.

It spent nearly $13,000 to send Harris, his wife and two strategists to the mainland on several politics-related trips late last year after Harris was re-elected, his campaign records show.

Included in the total: close to $200 to purchase flowers for a Democratic rally outside San Francisco.

The expenditures have caught the attention of the Campaign Spending Commission, which has taken other politicians to task for using campaign money to underwrite mainland travel.

But a Harris campaign spokesman said the expenditures were permitted under the Hawaii law dealing with how surplus campaign funds can be used after an election.

"The mayor was clearly doing campaign-related activities," said spokesman Chris Parsons.

The law permits using surplus money for fund-raising activities or "any other politically related activity sponsored by the candidate." It also allows the funds to be used for "any ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the candidate's duties as a holder of an elected state or county office."

Such a statute, if interpreted broadly, can cover a lot of ground. But the commission in the past has rejected politicians' attempts to use the law to justify paying for such things as new suits or shoes.

The trips funded by the Harris organization were taken after the mayor won a special election in September and before he announced two months ago that he was planning to run for governor next year. At the time of the trips, Harris was not a declared candidate for any office, though he was widely expected to run for governor.

The mainland meetings, including sessions with Democratic National Committee officials, were held to discuss Harris' political future in Hawaii and to discuss campaigns for other Democratic candidates locally, according to Parsons. "I don't think these (expenses) are even in gray areas," he said. "These are clearly OK."

Asked how the organization could justify paying for the two trips taken by Ramona Harris, the mayor's wife, Parsons said she is an integral part of any campaign by her husband.

On Oct. 4, 2000, the Harris organization paid $1,205 for Ramona Harris' trip to Washington, D.C. Nearly a month later, it paid $4,424 for Harris and his wife to go to the nation's capital to "seek funding for the Democratic Party," the records show.

"If you think the mayor's wife doesn't work on his campaign, that's a little naive," Parsons said.

Rick Tsujimura, a campaign co-chairman, and Mike Amii, another top strategist, also went to Washington and San Jose, Calif., on the organization's dime, the records show.

On the California trip in November, the pair met with President Clinton and top California Democrats, according to Parsons.

The records also list a Nov. 27 San Francisco trip (cost: $283) by Tsujimura for a Democratic event. An expense for $183 for flowers for a Democratic rally there was noted as well.

Campaigns frequently purchase lei to give out at political events, Parsons said.

Asked about the Harris campaign expenses, Bob Watada, the commission's executive director, said, "We're looking at candidates who feel they can use campaign funds for things not directly related to a campaign." He declined further comment.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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