By Rob PerezWednesday, April 4, 2001
ethical hot seat
The Council chairman's
campaign spending is
questionable at best
THE LAST THING the beleaguered Honolulu City Council needs is another controversy to further tarnish an already battered public image.
Well, add another blemish to the sorry mix.
This time it's Chairman Jon Yoshimura in the hot seat, addressing questions about using campaign funds to pay for such things as parking fines, tuxedo rentals and a 1996 stay in a luxury Los Angeles hotel.
A "Raising Cane" review of Yoshimura's campaign spending reports from the past five years revealed many examples of those and other questionable expenses.
Yoshimura, for instance, used campaign funds to pay for a 1996 trip to Los Angeles to meet with Smithsonian Institution officials about the possibility of luring a traveling exhibit to Hawaii, according to his spending records and Yoshimura.
While in Los Angeles, he stayed at the five-star Biltmore Hotel and charged the $244 tab to his campaign. His $311 air fare and about $175 worth of cab rides also were covered, the records show.
Yoshimura also used about $150 in campaign funds to cover six parking tickets, mostly in 1996, and paid roughly another $300 to rent tuxedos to attend community galas, according to the records and Yoshimura.
Yoshimura said he considered the expenses campaign-related for activities that would enhance his standing as a candidate and public official.
But he agreed that some were inappropriate -- particularly the tuxedo rentals and parking fines -- after discussing them recently with Bob Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission. Yoshimura said he has agreed to repay those amounts.
Yoshimura said he has not discussed expenses from his Los Angeles trip with Watada.
But Yoshimura considered the trip campaign-related because he was personally interested in luring the exhibit here -- no formal commitment had been made by the city -- and his efforts helped boost his exposure and notoriety. "This was a well-defined trip with a well-defined purpose."
Asked why he stayed at a five-star hotel in a city with numerous choices, Yoshimura replied, "That was the only place I could get." He said other hotels were booked.
The Smithsonian exhibit did not come to Hawaii.
Watada confirmed that the commission is "looking into" Yoshimura's campaign expenses.
He declined further comment about the case.
But as a general rule, campaigns cannot pay for mainland trips and parking fines, Watada said.
THE COMMISSION also has told politicians in the past that clothing expenses are not permitted unless they are for items directly related to campaigns, such as T-shirts with messages seeking support for a candidate.
Among other expenses that the Yoshimura campaign covered were about $200 for several golf/lunch outings with volunteers who Yoshimura said worked on his campaigns. In addition, expenses related to several campaign trips to Maui and Kauai were paid for, even though Yoshimura's election district is on Oahu.
Moreover, more than $1,000 was paid to Havana Cabana, a downtown cigar club and bar, in 1998 and '99 for food and beverages. The expenses were for campaign-related lunches and dinners at the club or to cater a campaign meeting elsewhere, according to the records and Yoshimura.
Yoshimura acknowledged that using campaign funds to patronize the club could create the wrong impression with people, but he said the club is convenient for having meetings with campaign volunteers.
He also defended his campaign meetings on Maui and Kauai, noting he is from Maui and was gauging potential support from the neighbor islands for current and future elections.
Regarding the tux rentals, Yoshimura said he thought they were legitimate campaign expenses because he needed formal attire to attend gala fund-raisers for charitable organizations.
HE LIKEWISE THOUGHT paying for parking fines with campaign money was appropriate because he got the parking tickets while attending community events or making site visits.
As for the L.A. trip, he said Council members do not have expense accounts and therefore historically have relied on campaign funds for "these kinds of gray-area expenditures."
If those expenses are deemed to be inappropriate, he vowed to pay them back. Yoshimura said taxpayers should not have to pay for such travel.
Using campaign funds to pay for off-island trips was among the infractions that got Councilwoman Rene Mansho in trouble.
She recently agreed to pay thousands of dollars to settle campaign spending and ethics violations.
In fact, fallout from the Mansho case was one reason Council members recently decided to take refresher courses on ethics -- something that Yoshimura talked up last week.
With the latest revelations involving the Council's leader, the group's collective image will fall further into the ethics gutter.
They had better take good notes when classes start.
City & County of Honolulu
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.