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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Harris accepting campaign cash

By Johnny Brannon and David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writers

Two weeks after Mayor Jeremy Harris announced he would completely suspend his run for governor and stop accepting campaign contributions until the Hawai'i Supreme Court decides whether he must first resign from office, the campaign said it is still accepting money from supporters.

"We are not soliciting or encouraging contributions or engaging in any other campaign activities," Harris campaign chairman Rick Tsujimura said yesterday. "However, supporters are continuing to send contributions to our mailbox. We are holding their checks so that we can hit the ground running as soon as the Hawai'i Supreme Court makes its decision, which we're confident will be in our favor."

A lower court ruling allows the campaign to continue while the Supreme Court case is pending, but Harris had stated on March 12 that he would suspend all campaign activities until the matter is decided.

The Supreme Court is not expected to render a decision for weeks, at the earliest, and that could raise further questions about how the Harris campaign handles any money it accepts in the meantime.

Campaigns must deposit any checks within seven days of receiving them or face fines of as much as three times the amount of the contribution, said state Campaign Spending Commission executive director Robert Watada.

Harris campaign officials said they would comply with all applicable laws, but could not say whether they would immediately deposit all checks received, or return any checks that were held more than seven days.

The Supreme Court has given a lower court until next Tuesday to turn over all of its records pertaining to the Harris case, in which Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna ruled that the mayor should have resigned from office last May when he filed a report with the commission indicating he planned to run for governor this year.

Harris is challenging McKenna's ruling, and has asked the Supreme Court to give the appeal expedited handling.

Harris' attorney, Robert Klein, has told the Supreme Court he believes both sides in the case can have all of the necessary papers filed by the second week in April. The Supreme Court yesterday accepted an accelerated schedule that was agreed to by both sides in the case, but gave no indication of how quickly it might rule.

"I'm very pleased, obviously, that the court has agreed to expedite the hearing on this," Harris said. "I think it's quite clear that Judge McKenna is wrong in reversing the longstanding 24-year interpretation of the resign-to-run law and applying it differently to me than to every other candidate."

The issue before the Supreme Court involves a section of the state Constitution that requires an elected official to resign from office in order to run for a different elective office if the two terms overlap.

In the past, political candidates normally waited until the deadline for filing nomination papers to resign from one office to seek another. The deadline for this election is July 23.

But Russell Blair, a former state District Court judge and former state senator, filed a lawsuit against Harris after the mayor announced a little more than three months into his new term of office that he was running for governor.

In a statement supplied by a spokeswoman, Harris said he had changed his position on accepting money in order to bolster a federal lawsuit his campaign filed to challenge a complaint pending before the commission.

"When I announced that I would suspend my campaign, I intended not to accept any contributions," Harris said in the statement. "But now my attorneys tell me that we risk losing the ability to be heard in federal court if we don't accept them. I've therefore decided that the campaign must continue to accept contributions.

"However, we will not conduct any campaign activity, nor will we solicit or encourage contributions, until the resign-to-run issue has been decided on by the Hawai'i Supreme Court and we reactivate our campaign."

In the federal case, lawyers for Harris sought a preliminary injunction yesterday to stop the commission from acting on a complaint in which Watada alleges that the Harris campaign failed to report more than $100,000 it raised for the Democratic National Committee in 2000.

In responding to questions from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway about why the court should get involved before the commission's five voting members rule on the case, Harris lawyers argued that the complaint is baseless but was causing the campaign irreparable harm. Mollway said she planned to issue a ruling on the injunction by Friday.

In a separate case, McKenna refused yesterday to quash a subpoena for bank records from an account that the head of an engineering firm allegedly used to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Harris and Gov. Ben Cayetano between 1996 and 2001.

Several associates of SSFM International Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Matsumoto told Campaign Spending Commission investigators that he had given them money to contribute to the campaigns, or reimbursed them for donations they made, according to commission officials.

Matsumoto's attorney, Steven Hisaka, argued unsuccessfully that the subpoena was overly broad and violated Matsumoto's right to privacy. Hisaka also argued that the commission initially had refused to provide him with transcripts of the interviews with investigators.

But Deputy Attorney General Gary Kam, representing the commission, said he had provided the transcripts on Friday, and that attorneys from Hisaka's firm had been present during the interviews and knew exactly what statements had been made.

Advertiser Staff Writer Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.