Sunday, January 13, 2002

"It's fine to have political alignments but you can't take those to the job." --Jeremy Harris, referring to Campaign Spending panel chief Bob Watada

Harris will fight
ruling to limit his
fund raising

The mayor blames the investigation
on a "personal vendetta"

By Helen Altonn

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris says he will challenge a ruling that "makes it impossible" for him to raise money for a run for governor in the coming election.

The ruling states that money contributed to Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign counts toward the limit on donations for his gubernatorial campaign.

Harris and his attorneys are expected to fight the ruling and a complaint by state Campaign Spending Commission executive director Robert Watada in connection with an investigation into Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign.

Both items will be considered at a 3 p.m. meeting Tuesday. The commission is expected to be asked to send the complaint against Harris to the city prosecutor.

Harris charges that Watada's investigation is part of a "vendetta" against him because of "great personal animosity."

He said Watada's "tortured interpretation" of the law that contributions to his 2000 mayoral campaign count toward a gubernatorial campaign "shuts down my ability to raise money."

Harris says all candidates have contribution errors -- some more than him -- but he's been singled out "for humiliation and embarrassment."

"We've never gotten along," the mayor said, noting he and Watada have supported opposing candidates in the past.

"It's fine to have political alignments but you can't take those to the job," he said, stressing that the Campaign Spending Commission's executive director should be completely unbiased.

"Mayor Harris is going to say all those things he's said in the past," Watada said.

"I've never even talked to him before," he said regarding the accusation of "personal animosity."

Harris said the letter of complaint to the prosecutor came after he and his attorneys got the challenge to the fund raising ruling on the commission agenda.

"It was simultaneous," Watada said.

He declined to comment on the possibility of referring the case to the prosecutor, saying: "I am recommending to the commission that they take action and they can take whatever action they want to."

Watada previously said the commission staff has identified more than 60 corporations and individuals who gave more than the $4,000 limit to the mayor's re-election campaign.

Seven firms and donors have been fined for exceeding that amount.

Harris said he hopes the commission, in its oversight role, "won't rubber-stamp" the ruling on contributions but will review it and change it. "It's critical that they recognize it is unfair.

"Clearly, the Legislature didn't mean that (contributions to one race count against another one). It doesn't make any sense," Harris said.

"Obviously, if I have restrictions on me, the amount of money I can raise puts me at an enormous disadvantage."

He said Watada's interpretation of the law is aimed at thwarting his race for governor. "I'm sure that's his goal," he said yesterday regarding rumors that he is reconsidering the race.

Watada said he will make a comment at the commission meeting when the five members consider referring its investigation of Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign to the city prosecutor.

He said the commission this year wanted to look at contributions and that's what it's focusing on.

"We don't discriminate. We just look at the records and do what we have to do. The taxpayers are the ones who pay my salary. I think I should do my work for them."

Watada has a complaint of his own against the city. "I know my property tax sure went up this year," said the Hawaii Kai resident. "I'm appealing. I hope he doesn't take it personally."

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