Tuesday, October 9, 2001

City & County of Honolulu

Donations to
Harris campaign

A contributor allegedly gave more
than he was legally allowed

By Rick Daysog

A member of the Honolulu Police Commission contributed nearly four times the legal limit to Mayor Jeremy Harris' 2000 re-election campaign, according to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin computer-assisted study.

The contributions by commissioner Alan Ho, which totaled $15,500, are being investigated by the state Campaign Spending Commission.

In 1999 and 2000, Ho and several of his businesses made eight contributions to the Harris campaign, including three contributions of $2,000 each on the same day. The three contributions, made on Nov. 8, 1999, were in the name of Ho's Waikiki eateries: Antonio's Steak Ribs & Pasta, Lobster & Crab House and Royal Steak & Seafood House.

Ho's wife, Sylvia Liang-Ho, donated an additional total of $2,250 in 1999 and 2000.

Under state law a donor is limited to giving $4,000 to a mayoral candidate during a four-year election cycle.

Ho and Bob Watada, executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission, declined comment. But Ho's attorney, Ronald Amemiya, confirmed that the commission is looking into the matter.

In letters dated Saturday to Watada and Harris campaign treasurer Roger Liu, Amemiya said that Ho believed that each of his restaurants could give $4,000.

But after speaking with Watada recently, Ho asked the Harris campaign to return $12,000 in campaign contributions, Amemiya wrote.

Amemiya said his client plans to donate the $12,000 to a charitable fund assisting families affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

"In a nutshell, Mr. Ho and his fellow corporate partners/officers operated under the assumption that each restaurant which they ran could contribute up to $4,000 for each year during the period in question," Amemiya said.

Ho was named by Harris to a five-year term on the Police Commission in 1999, and his appointment was approved by the Honolulu City Council.

Harris, mayor since 1994, has announced plans to run for governor in 2002 as a Democrat.

Chris Parsons, attorney for Harris' gubernatorial campaign, said he had no knowledge of the contributions by Ho and his companies. He said the Harris campaign would cooperate with any inquiries by the Campaign Spending Commission.

If Ho inadvertently exceeded the $4,000 donation limit, the Harris campaign would request an advisory opinion from the Campaign Spending Commission on how to proceed, Parsons said. Under state law the campaign can return the money to the donor or send it to the state election fund, he said.

Parsons noted that the Harris campaign recently asked the commission for similar guidance regarding two contributions totaling $5,000.

"Our campaign has worked mightily to be open, to have good records and to run the campaign as clean as possible because we know any mistake would come back to hurt us," Parsons said. "Anytime we find out an error, we try to correct it."

The disclosures come as the Campaign Spending Commission is taking a closer look at the Harris campaign. Although the commission has not opened a formal investigation, people familiar with the inquiry said the commission has subpoenaed records from several of the city's outside contractors and has interviewed a number of their employees.

In June the Star-Bulletin reported that more than a dozen city contractors contributed nearly $750,000 to Harris' 2000 re-election campaign. That amount is about a quarter of the $2.98 million that Harris raised for his re-election, which he won handily over former City Councilman Mufi Hannemann.

In addition to contributions to Harris' latest mayoral race, Ho also gave to Harris' successful 1996 mayoral campaign. Campaign spending records show that Ho's Lobster & Crab House, Abe Investment and Royal Steak & Seafood donated a total of $6,000 in June 1996.

Ho is not the only member of the Police Commission who gave significant sums to the Harris campaign.

Commission Chairman Leonard Leong contributed the $4,000 limit to Harris' 2000 campaign. His wife, Sherrilynn Leong, also gave the $4,000 limit, according to Harris' campaign disclosures.

Leong, a vice president with Royal Contracting Co., said he has known Harris for many years and considers him to be a "decent guy." Leong said his political contributions were personal and were not business related.

"I think he has high moral integrity," Leong said.

City & County of Honolulu

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