Campaign Spending Commission doubles down on letting Forward Progress donor hide source of funds

Previously we talked about Karen Chun’s complaint against the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Fund (HCMRF) noncandidate committee which is the sole donor to the superPAC, Forward Progress.  Forward Progress has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat neighbor island council candidates who are in favor of good planning and who want to regulate GMOs and pesticides.

HCMRF has hidden its donors by filing contribution disclosures indicating that it has donated the money to itself.

A second complaint against Forward Progress which concerned lack of candidate names will be dismissed as the names were listed but apparently a system problem produced the blank column.

The complaint against HCMRF (Forward Progress’s sole donor) will be heard on Wednesday, Oct 22 at 10am, Conference room 204, 235 S. Beretania St, Honolulu.  The agenda also includes two complaints by Gov. Ben Cayatano against Pacific Resources Partnership (PRP), the precursor PAC to Forward Progress and also one of HCMRF’s superPACs.

Unfortunately, staff at the Campaign Spending Commission are recommending dismissing the HCMRF complaint because the Commission had previously issued Advisory Opinion 06-01 holding that – and here you will have to read carefully because this really does not make sense:

“employers who made payments to a labor-management industry fund (“Fund”) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, were not the contributors when the Fund subsequently contributes to a noncandidate committee registered by the Fund. Rather the contributor to the noncandidate committee was the fund itself.”

Opinion 06-01 rendered in 2006 says in part that

“The signatory employers are not donors because their payments to the Sponsoring Organization are not contributions. A “contribution” includes any gift, deposit of money, or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing an election for a Hawaii elective public or constitutional office. The employers’ payments are made pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, rather than for the purpose of influencing an election.”

Say what?  Because they’ve agreed to pay into the fund whose purpose is to influence elections, via a collective bargaining contract, that suddenly means it isn’t a contribution designed to influence an election?

Opinion 06-01 goes on:

“Sponsoring Organization is the donor because the Sponsoring Organization rather than the employers or employees,” [irrelevant here – no employees donate to HCMRF] “make payments to the Committee for the purpose of influencing an election for a Hawaii elective public or constitutional office.”

This is some tortured reasoning.  Especially since HCMRF itself flew at least one of the Forward Progress candidates over to Oahu for training.

This inexplicable ruling rescinded Advisory 05-05 which held the exact opposite the year before.  In 05-05 the Campaign Spending Commission ruled:

This Advisory Opinion responds to a noncandidate committee (Committee) that asks whether the Committee must report as donors the employees of signatory employers to a collective bargaining agreement when the employers make contributions to the Committee’s sponsoring organization, which then makes contributions to the Committee (noncandidate committee).

The Campaign Spending Commission (Commission) responds in the negative. The Committee must report the employers as the donors. [emph added]

In this ruling the fund was asking whether it was supposed to report the names of the employees who handed over the contribution or the business that these people represented.  The ruling is saying that the donations are the business’ and thus the business name should be listed on the campaign contribution report.

So until 2006 when this ruling was rescinded it never even occurred to HCMRF to try and hide the business contributions to its fund – a fund that totals something like $11,000,000 as of their 2011 IRS filing.

With rulings like this from the Campaign Spending Commission, there will continue to be a lot of unanswered questions about HCMRF and Forward Progress.  And once again voters will be left in the dark about corporate money influencing our elections.

HCMRF Response to complaint


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