Commission fines five who donated to Harris
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The state Campaign Spending Commission fined five companies a total of $3,000 yesterday for making $6,950 in excess contributions to Mayor Jeremy Harris' 2000 re-election campaign, but postponed a decision on a $42,000 fine against another company that could face a criminal probe.
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State Campaign Spending Commission director Robert Watada might call for the city to investigate.
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Watada said he would ask the commission's five voting members to refer the case to the city prosecutor if no agreement is reached soon. Stringer Tusher attorney Phillip Li, who once served on the commission, said the parties were continuing to negotiate but declined to comment further.
The prosecutor is investigating the commission's contention that Harris' campaign circumvented state contribution limits of $4,000 per donor by using names of people who had not given any money.
Li declined to say whether Stringer Tusher officials had been contacted by investigators conducting the criminal probe.
The commission has fined numerous supporters of Harris and other politicians this year, and Watada said he is investigating additional alleged illegal donations.
The Harris administration has awarded Stringer Tusher more than $3.2 million in nonbid design contracts since 1998 for projects such as the Kapi'olani and Waialua bandstands, the Waipi'o Peninsula Recreation Complex, and a fountain at 'A'ala Park, city records show.
The companies fined yesterday are all city contractors or subcontractors, Watada said, but that does not necessarily mean they tried to buy their way into city contracts with campaign contributions, although they may have felt pressured to give money.
"I think the majority of the people who get involved in government contracts don't like the system, but it's the system," he said.
Harris, a Democratic candidate for governor until he dropped out of the race in May, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the fines. He has insisted on previous occasions that there is no connection between the acceptance of campaign contributions and the awarding of city contracts.
The biggest fine issued yesterday, $1,000, was issued against Toft Wolff Farrow and its vice president, Harold Fujimoto. The company contributed $7,250 to Harris, or $3,250 more than the legal limit, according to a written agreement between the company and the commission. Fujimoto did not return calls.
Another firm, Group Builders, Inc., was fined $500 for giving Harris $2,750 too much. Company president Anacleto Alcantra said he mistakenly believed a $3,500 contribution he made in 1996 would be counted toward the limit in the mayoral election that had just concluded that year. He said he had not been pressured to donate to Harris.
"We believed Harris was doing a very good job," he said. "I didn't know that in the eyes of the commission, if you gave in that year you have to use it for (the next) election."
Three other companies were fined $500 each for smaller excess contributions. Kodama/Okamoto Architects gave Harris $500 more than the limit; Austin Tsutsumi and Associates donated an excess of $250; and Hecker Design Ltd. each gave Harris $200 more than the limit.
Lambert Yamashita, senior vice president of Austin Tsutsumi, said his company's excess contribution was due to an accounting oversight.
"We just bit the bullet and acknowledged it," he said.
Kodama/Okamoto president Dean Okamoto declined to comment on the fine, and Hecker Design sole proprietor William Hecker could not immediately be reached for comment.
Officials from Harris' aborted campaign for governor said a month ago that they would seek campaign spending commission approval of a formula for returning money to contributors after first paying the campaign's legal bills and other expenses.
Watada said he had not been presented with a proposed repayment plan so far, and a Harris campaign spokeswoman could not immediately say when one would be presented.