Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

State fines 2 firms for
excess Harris gifts

By Rick Daysog

The state Campaign Spending Commission has fined two local companies for giving excessive contributions to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris's 2000 re-election effort.

The five-member commission voted unanimously yesterday to levy $500 fines against City Bank and Belt Collins, an engineering and planning firm, for exceeding the $4,000 contribution limit for the 2000 mayoral race.

A third donor, AJ Construction, has agreed to pay a $500 fine, but the commission voted to defer action pending completion of a formal settlement.

Robert Watada, the commission's executive director, said the companies' excess donations were unintentional.

Harris campaign attorney Chris Parsons said the campaign had no role in the excess contributions and would return any donations to people who gave more than the legal limit.

City Bank told the commission it had inadvertently exceeded the limit by $125, while Belt Collins said it made a clerical error when it gave $500 more than the $4,000 legal limit.

AJ Construction surpassed the legal donation limit by $1,000. The firm gave $1,000 in cash to the Harris campaign but contributed another $4,000 in nonmonetary donations, Watada said.

AJ Construction initially billed the Harris campaign $31,000 for interior work at its headquarters last year. The firm later discounted its bill by $4,000 but did not register the discount as a nonmonetary contribution, Watada said.

Watada noted that the commission could have fined the companies up to $3,000 if the commission found that the excess contributions were made intentionally.

Harris, who is running for governor, defeated former City Councilman Mufi Hannemann in the 2000 mayoral race.

The penalties come as the commission takes a close look at political donations to the Harris and other campaigns. Last month, the state agency fined five local firms a total of $7,750 for giving excessive contributions to the Harris campaign and plans to levy fines against two other local firms in its Jan. 16 meeting.

The commission's actions came after a Star-Bulletin investigation in June reported that the Harris campaign raised nearly $750,000 from people and companies linked to city contractors.

Parsons said he believes the commission has unfairly singled out the Harris campaign.

"We're very confident when all the facts are in they'll find that the Harris campaign has run a clean campaign," he said.

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