Thursday, January 17, 2002

Candor best defense
for Harris campaign

The issue: Law enforcement
authorities are investigating the
mayor's campaign in 2000.

LEGALLY, Mayor Harris is afforded the presumption of innocence as the authorities begin investigating his campaign finances. Politically, he risks significant damage as long as the investigation continues, perhaps beyond this year's gubernatorial election. He should find a way to document and explain clearly and thoroughly to the public the sources and recording of his campaign finances.

Harris also should stop complaining about political motivation or selective prosecution as that only adds to his problems. In short, quit bellyaching and come clean. Now.

The state Campaign Spending Commission has asked the city prosecutor's office to begin investigating the conduct of Harris and three of his campaign officers in his 2000 re-election campaign, and the FBI has been consulted in the investigation. The referral followed a year-long review that turned up "fairly solid evidence that there were deliberate violations by the Harris campaign and its top officials," said Bob Watada, the commission's executive director.

The two-count complaint alleges that the Harris campaign accepted contributions and recorded them under false names. The alleged falsifications were aimed at achieving apparent compliance with a $4,000 limit on contributions from individuals and companies. Some companies have been fined for making larger contributions and attributing part of them to family members or donating the money through employees. Knowledge of such illegal money laundering would implicate campaign officials or even the candidate.

A Star-Bulletin examination of Harris's campaign chest last year showed that nearly $750,000 had been raised from 1996 through 2000 from companies that have had city contracts valued at more than $200 million or from their family members and employees. The Harris campaign returned contributions that later were found to be in excess of the $4,000 limit.

Harris has reacted with anger to the commission's investigation, calling it a "politically motivated vendetta." William McCorriston, his attorney, accused Watada of singling out Harris when the campaigns of Gov. Cayetano and former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle had made similar errors. However, no evidence has surfaced that the Cayetano or Lingle campaigns knowingly accepted money in violation of the limit.

Last month, the mayor filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission accusing Watada of improperly disclosing information to the news media about the commission's investigation concerning more than 50 contributors to the Harris campaign. As Watada noted, the information is open to the public by law. Any attempt to conceal such public information would amount to a cover-up, an action Harris should realize would be political dynamite.

No drastic action
needed for tourism

The issue: Hawaii's tourist
industry reportedly is rebounding
faster than expected.

TOURISM could be on its way to a full recovery in Hawaii well before many observers had foreseen in the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau reports that visitor numbers are approaching normal levels, clearly indicating that extreme measures are not needed.

Although economists told state legislators earlier this week that they expect a slower recovery, they also indicated optimism. Desperate legislation, such as construction projects that serve no long-term benefit or legalization of gambling, is neither necessary nor beneficial over the long term.

Less than a week after the attacks, airlines had put 90 percent of their available seats to Hawaii back in service. The addition of direct connections to Houston and Denver next month will boost the seat availability to Hawaii beyond the level of a year earlier.

Tony Vericella, the visitors bureau's chief executive officer, says he is confident that an increasing number of those seats will be occupied in the coming weeks and months. Tourism already has begun to recover at a greater pace than expected, he says. By June, he predicts, the industry could return to the levels of a year earlier.

The economic downturn caused the loss of thousands of jobs in Hawaii in the months following the terrorist attack. University of Hawaii economist Carl Bonham said more tourist jobs could evaporate before stability is achieved a year from now.

State economist Pearl Imada Iboshi says indicators show stagnation could continue through this year. One indicator is the recession on the mainland, but that doesn't reflect many Americans' preference to stay in the United States, including Hawaii, on vacations.

Vericella is confident that aggressive marketing in Japan, which began soon after the terrorist attack, will result in rising numbers. He expects tourism from Japan to reach 90 percent of normal in this year's second quarter and surpass that level by the end of the year.

In gloomier times, the visitors bureau has approached the Legislature for emergency help. Vericella see no need for such assistance in the current legislative session.

Iboshi, although less optimistic, warns against building roads to nowhere merely for the sake of providing an economic stimulus in the immediate future. "It's not worth building anything that we don't need or want," he told lawmakers.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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