RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Sam Aiona, right, held a press conference yesterday at the party's headquarters. At left is Terry Thomason, GOP party attorney.
Hawaii GOP alleges Democratic funding plot
Hawaii Republicans asked the GOP in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to join them yesterday in a complaint charging Democrats with attempting to funnel contributions illegally to the U.S. Senate campaign of Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown.
The Hawaii party signed and notarized a complaint to the Federal Election Commission against Brown's campaign and the Democratic parties of Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maine. The complaint alleges that Brown's campaign broke campaign finance laws by routing money through state parties to avoid contribution limits, said Keith Nakano, executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party.
Federal election laws prohibit organizations from passing on contributions in someone else's name, and disallow money exchanges made to avoid campaign donation limits on individuals.
"This is a violation of the trust of the people, and we think it's serious," said Hawaii GOP Chairman Sam Aiona at a news conference. "From what we understand, it does appear that it's money laundering."
Aiona said the complaint would be sent first to the Massachusetts Republican Party for the signature of its chairman, then on to Rhode Island for the party's endorsement before it goes to the FEC in Washington.
The Rhode Island and Massachusetts Republican parties have not yet decided whether to join the complaint, their executive directors have said.
Republicans allege that the Hawaii Democratic Party stood to gain $1,000 in a tit-for-tat arrangement where the party contributed $5,000 to Brown's campaign in exchange for a $6,000 donation from a Brown supporter who had reached his spending limit under campaign laws.
Brickwood Galuteria, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, repeated yesterday that the party did nothing wrong.
"We welcome whatever the FEC decides, and we'll participate fully. But we do stand by our earlier statement that our actions are not improper," Galuteria said.
The complaint said similar arrangements were made to funnel contributions to the Rhode Island candidate from Maine and Massachusetts. The parties in the three states sent a total of $25,000 in donations to Brown, then received a total of $30,000 a few days later from private donors, including businessman Richard Bready, who had reached his legal limit for contributing to the Brown campaign.
Hawaii Democrats have denied making any illegal deals to get around campaign finance laws, but they acknowledge they made a mistake in contributing money to a primary election campaign in another state. The Democrats have returned the contributions from Bready and others and are getting their contribution back from the Brown campaign.
Brown has been running on a clean-government platform against former Democratic Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse for a seat the Democrats believe they have a chance of taking from the GOP. They are vying to unseat Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who is challenged in the GOP primary by Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.
The Republican Party's complaint is based on published reports, and the party does not have any firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing, said Terry Thomason, an attorney for the Hawaii GOP.
Brown acknowledged that he personally asked supporters to give money to the three state Democratic parties that contributed to his Senate campaign, but denied ever making a deal to illegally funnel donations to his campaign.