Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa went before the state Campaign Spending Commission Wednesday to vigorously defend himself against allegations he broke campaign spending laws.
"We never did anything intentionally to get away from the rules. We were following the rules,” Arakawa said.
Arakawa, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, is accused of misrepresenting more than $6,000 in advertisements that his campaign bought.
The commission, which wants to fine him $2,000, said the ads are really charitable donations to nonprofits, meant to buy goodwill among voters.
"It's not necessarily advertising as you have tried to characterize it. It has to do with goodwill, seeding the community … for voters,” said Kristin Izumi-Nitao, the commission’s executive director.
But the mayor said when his campaign spent the money, the nonprofits told his staffers that they were solely for the purpose of advertising. He said his campaign explicitly doesn't make charitable donations to avoid running afoul of the state campaign spending laws.
Campaigns are allowed to give up to $8,000 in charitable donations. But they're not allowed to misrepresent the donations as campaign expenses, the commission said.
Investigators said part of their work was frustrated, alleging Mayor Arakawa's wife Ann told some nonprofit officials not to cooperate. But Arakawa and his lawyer said those allegations are off base.
“This is beginning to look like a witch hunt,” said attorney David Minkin. “To say that Ann Arakawa is out there rustling the bushes and doing all sorts of nefarious things based on one conversation (is) inappropriate, mistaken."
Investigators had recommended the fine or referring the case to prosecutors for a criminal investigation. But commissioners threw cold water on that idea.
“I don't think there's any reckless, knowing or intentional violation that I see,” said Commissioner Kenneth Goodenow. "I don't think this is something that is criminal."
In the end, the commission made no final decision on the fine, delaying that to its Dec. 13 meeting so staff could further investigate.