Friday, June 28, 2002

Watada threatens
contractor with criminal investigation

He says the firm has not cooperated
with a Harris funding inquiry

Commission finds no ethics
violations in Harris probe

By Rick Daysog

The head of the state Campaign Spending Commission is threatening to refer a city contractor to Prosecutor Peter Carlisle for a criminal investigation.

Robert Watada, the commission's executive director, said he has been negotiating with Stringer Tusher Architects during the past several months to settle charges that the firm made $20,000 in excessive political contributions to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' 2000 re-election campaign.

But Watada said the talks have not progressed much lately and that he may conduct a probable-cause hearing or refer the case to Carlisle, who is conducting a criminal investigation into the Harris campaign's fund-raising practices.

David Stringer, the firm's president, said he was surprised by Watada's comments, saying he believed that his attorneys and the commission were still working out the details of a conciliation agreement.

Stringer said his firm has cooperated with the commission's investigation.

"We generally support what he's trying to do, which is to clean up the campaign spending mess," Stringer said.

Chris Parsons, an attorney for the Harris campaign, said he is unaware of the Stringer Tusher case.

He said the campaign does not solicit illegal contributions and has returned excess contributions cited by the commission.

According to Watada, Stringer Tusher gave the Harris campaign six cashier's checks for $4,000 back in December 1997.

The checks totaling $24,000 were paid for by the company or its officers but were given in the names of several California residents, Watada said.

Under state law, a donor can give no more than $4,000 for a mayoral race.

Since 1998 the Harris administration has awarded Stringer Tusher nearly $3.9 million in nonbid contracts, city records show. That included a $297,400 architectural contract for the Kapiolani Park Bandstand and a $2.9 million contract to design the Waipio Peninsula Recreation Complex.

Stringer said that several city contracts have not been lucrative for the firm since subcontractors take out a large chunk of the awards.

He said his firm lost about $100,000 on the bandstand contract.

The Stringer Tusher case will be discussed at the commission's hearing on Wednesday.

A hearing agenda posted yesterday noted the commission may vote to approve a conciliation agreement with the firm or refer the case to Carlisle's office.



Commission finds no ethics
violations in probe
of Harris campaign

By Rick Daysog

The state Ethics Commission has sided with state Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Robert Watada in his legal dispute with Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

By a 4-0 vote with one member abstaining, the commission finalized an informal advisory opinion which found that Watada did not violate the state ethics code in his investigation into Harris' now defunct gubernatorial campaign.

The Ethics Commission's June 19 ruling comes after the Harris campaign agreed earlier this month to withdraw two federal court lawsuits against the commission and Watada.

Harris' complaint, which was filed in December, alleged that Watada violated the state ethics code by improperly disclosing information and commenting to the local news media about his investigation.

The complaint also charged that Watada's comments gave an "unwarranted advantage" to Harris' opponents in the governor's race.

Dan Mollway, Ethics Commission executive director, declined to discuss details of the opinion, saying the report is confidential and can only be released by Watada.

Jim Bickerton, an attorney for the Campaign Spending Commission, also would not talk about the particulars in the opinion. But he said the ruling supports his client's view that Harris' complaint was "politically motivated."

Chris Parsons, an attorney for the Harris campaign, said he was "flabbergasted" that the Ethics Commission found no violation of the ethics law.

Parsons said Watada's disclosure of unproved "allegations and suspicions" during the past several years played a role in Harris' decision to pull out of the governor's race last month.

"What this means is, you don't have to prove it, you just have to allege it, and if you can allege enough, you can smear someone out of a race," Parsons said.

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