Friday, November 16, 2001

Harris a large
beneficiary of
Outrigger donations

Hotel officials deny trying to
curry favor on specific issues

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Outrigger Enterprises and a handful of its board members and their relatives contributed $22,500 to the campaign of Mayor Jeremy Harris over the last six years while also donating lesser amounts to seven of nine City Council members.

The Harris administration is asking the Council to condemn five properties on behalf of the hotel chain. Outrigger officials say they need to have fee ownership of the parcels to obtain financing for its $300 million Waikiki Beachwalk project.

Robert Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, said it does not appear the contributions resulted in any campaign violations, but they do provide a clear example of how larger corporations try to exert influence over elected officials.

The Outrigger donations have been put on a list of donors to be investigated by the commission, he said.

"You have special interests who give large contributions through various means to get special favors," Watada said. "I don't think that's saying anything shocking."

Outrigger President and Chief Executive Officer David Carey said yesterday there is no connection between the contributions and the condemnation action now before the Council.

The company's political action committee decides to make contributions to candidates it believes will benefit Outrigger's broader interests, Carey said, but not based on candidates' views on any individual issues.

The Council's Policy Committee deferred on Wednesday the condemnation resolution until January and asked Outrigger and the property owners to come up with their own solution.

The seven Council members received $15,650 total from the Outrigger Enterprises Inc. Political Action Committee and its officers, according to information from state Campaign Spending Commission records requested by the Star-Bulletin.

Waikiki Councilman Duke Bainum, a candidate for mayor, has received $3,850 since 1998. Former Councilman Mufi Hannemann, who ran against Harris in 2000 and also is a candidate for mayor next year, has received $18,550 since 1997.

The other current Council members who received contributions are John DeSoto, $3,050 since 1997; Rene Mansho, $3,000 since 1997; Romy Cachola, $2,000 since 1997; Gary Okino, $2,000 since 2000; Jon Yoshimura, $1,000 since 1999; and John Henry Felix, $750 since 1997.

Councilmen Steve Holmes and Andy Mirikitani did not receive contributions from Outrigger or its directors, according to the commission's study.

Among the individual Outrigger officers making contributions were Carey, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Kaneshige and Vice President Jean Rolles.

The donations made to city candidates totaled $56,700, according to Campaign Spending Commission documents.

Outrigger Enterprises' political action committee disbursed more than $76,000 to state and city candidates during the 2000 election period, campaign spending records show.

Outrigger officials are free to give contributions to political candidates above what the firm has donated, Watada said, so long as the money comes from their own pockets and that they did so without coercion.

Individuals with a "controlling interest," or have direct decision-making authority over the finances of a company, however, may not consider their contributions separate.

Watada said the commission is currently looking at information involving large campaign donors and their relationship with elected officials.

Carey noted that the Waikiki Beachwalk project has been discussed seriously for only the last several years, while the contributions culled by the commission go as far back as five years.

"While we had a glimmer in our eye of what Lewers (Street) was going to look like, we certainly didn't know we were going to be asking for a series of condemnations on a series of parcels at that time," he said. "It's very hard to draw that connection."

The company, he said, also encourages its employees to become involved in the political process, including its executives, and is not embarrassed by the company's contributions.

"This is the way business is and should be done," Carey said. "We have a responsibility to support leaders that support our industry and support our community. The good news is, there's a campaign spending law to report this stuff so you can see exactly what's going on."

The company is concerned with a number of issues before the Council, from restaurant smoking to beach improvements, he said.

At least one of the Council members who have received Outrigger contributions said he will not vote for the condemnation. DeSoto, who has consistently voted against city condemnation for private interests, said any contribution from Outrigger would have no influence on how he will vote.

"Whatever I think is wrong I'm going to fight whether I get contributions from them or not," he said, noting he even "chopped up" Outrigger officials at Wednesday's meeting.

DeSoto said he did not know that Outrigger had contributed to his campaign but believes that if it did, it is because the company is in line with his pro-business views.

Bainum, Okino and Felix also raised questions during Wednesday's meeting on the condemnation resolution, while Cachola made the motion to defer the issue.

Chris Parsons, legal counsel for the Harris campaign, said "there is no correlation between contributions and the actions taken by the mayor."

Parsons said the fact that Outrigger has contributed to opposing candidates -- such as Harris, Hannemann and Bainum -- shows it makes contributions based on broader issues, not in order to gain influence on a particular issue.

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