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Abercrombie cannot transfer funds, panel says


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POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's run for governor took a financial hit yesterday as the state Campaign Spending Commission barred him from transferring about $900,000 left over from his federal campaigns to use in his run for state office.

In a statement, the campaign said it was reviewing all options before determining how to respond to yesterday's ruling.

Abercrombie did not immediately comment.

“;He's certainly going to run an aggressive campaign,”; Abercrombie's campaign attorney Karl Sandstrom said. “;He's not going to let this be a hurdle to running an aggressive campaign.”;

The commission voted 4-0, with one member abstaining, against the transfer.

By law, the commission said, Abercrombie's federal campaign committee may make a donation of $6,000—the maximum allowed under state law—to the state campaign committee. He also may return the funds and ask donors to recommit the money to his state campaign.

No decision had been made on whether to appeal, but Sandstrom said he feels constitutional issues could be raised in either state or federal court.

Sandstrom argued that there is no state law specifically prohibiting the transfer of federal funds for a state race and that federal law leaves it to states to determine whether such transfers are allowed.

Lex Smith, an attorney for Mayor Mufi Hannemann's campaign, said he knew of no state that allowed for federal funds to be used for state races, but noted at least two jurisdictions—Arkansas and Puerto Rico—that specifically barred the practice.

“;I think the law is pretty clear that the federal funds really don't fit into our state scheme,”; Smith said. “;The state has its own comprehensive campaign spending law, which really governs the issue of what funds can be contributed and what can be spent in a state campaign.”;

Although Hannemann has not formally declared a run for governor next year, he has set up an exploratory committee and is raising funds. He would face Abercrombie in the Democratic primary.

Hannemann already has transferred about $660,000 left over from his mayoral race to his gubernatorial campaign. Transfer of funds between state races is legal, something that Sandstrom said creates a double standard.

“;Why don't any of the state candidates have to send back (donations) and ask for them again? They gave it for a different office,”; he said.

Without the federal funds, Abercrombie has raised about $486,000 in his state campaign and has about $250,000 on hand. Hannemann has about $1.2 million available.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona has raised about $309,000 and has $871,000 available, including $196,000 left over from his last lieutenant governor campaign.