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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

Harris campaign donation net grows

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Three more companies that made excessive contributions to Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris' 2000 re-election campaign have agreed to pay fines next week, and others may be penalized soon as the state's largest-ever campaign finance probe continues, officials say.

AJ Construction, Belt Collins engineering, and City Bank donated a total of $1,625 more than allowed to Harris' war chest, but investigators found no evidence that they had done so on purpose, according to state Campaign Spending Commission director Robert Watada.

"The indication is that it was clearly unintentional," he said.

State law allows each contributor to donate no more than $4,000 to a mayoral candidate during a four-year election cycle. AJ Construction gave Harris $1,000 too much, while Belt Collins exceeded the limit by $500 and City Bank did so by $125, Watada said. Each will be fined $500.

The commission last month issued five fines totalling $7,750 to businesses that made excess contributions to Harris.

The commission has identified more than 60 companies and individuals that may have given illegal contributions to Harris' mayoral campaign, and is investigating whether they did so in hopes of receiving lucrative city contracts in return, Watada said. The office has issued 45 subpoenas for bank records and testimony.

Harris is running for governor in 2002. His campaign attorney, Chris Parsons, said there is no link between donations and city contract awards, and Harris has accused Watada of unfairly targeting his campaign.

Belt Collins, which specializes in engineering, planning, and landscaping design work, has been awarded 10 city contracts totalling more than $2.3 million since 1997.

The projects included work for a Waipahu wastewater pump station, a Pearl Harbor historical trail, new exhibits at the Honolulu Zoo, and various road and park improvement plans, city spokesman Gerry Silva said. The other two firms are not city contractors, he said.

Belt Collins president Anne Mapes declined to comment, and AJ Construction president Arsenio Agustin could not be reached. City Bank senior vice president Wayne Miyao said a change in bookkeepers had led to an error there.

"It was an honest mistake," Miyao said. "It wasn't done intentionally to circumvent the limit."

Parsons said the fact that two of the three companies do not perform city work demonstrates the lack of a connection between donations and contracts.

"You will find many contributors to the mayor who do not get city contracts, and you will find many that do," Parsons said. "The process that awards contracts in the city is blind to campaign contributions. It was designed that way."

The five-member commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to accept the three fines as conciliation, and likely will consider several additional fines against others in January, Watada said.

At least one person interviewed by the commission has stated under oath that they did not make a contribution that the Harris campaign attributed to them, and investigators want to know if there were others, and why, he said.

"We're trying to sort through thousands of checks," Watada said. "It's like you find a needle in a haystack but you're not sure where the needle goes. We found several needles, and I'm not saying that anyone did anything wrong. But it's questionable."

Parsons said the commission had not provided him with any information about such suspicions, and he blasted Watada for airing them before his investigation has concluded.

"We're more than happy to sit down with the commission and discuss our reports, but it's very difficult to respond to reports when we're receiving them only through the media," Parsons said. "I'm confident that when the facts are known, there will be nothing illegal here."

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.