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Saturday, June 07, 2008
‘Clean Elections’ activist nailed by Campaign Spending Commission
By Andrew Walden @ 12:39 AM :: 8455 Views :: Hawaii County , Ethics

As a Hawai‘i State Legislative Conference Committee considered enactment of HB 661 -- the so-called “Voter-Owned Elections” bill establishing separate election finance rules for the Big Island -- leading Hawai‘i County “clean elections” advocates were caught up in a web of campaign spending violations and campaign-related conflict-of-interest charges.

Big Island Voter Owned Elections advocates Justin Avery and Shawn James Leavey were rebuffed Feb. 20 when they demanded the University of Hawaii-Hilo Students Association (UHHSA) endorse their “Clean Elections” resolution.  An article appearing in the Feb. 26 UH Hilo student newspaper Ke Kalahea explains: “… no one had copies or was able to view the proposal/bill/resolution.”

With Leavey planning an independent run for State House District 1 seat being vacated by Dwight Takamine, he suddenly found himself on the hot seat.  According to the UHHSA minutes one student senator asked, “Is it okay to use the student government to run for Legislature?”  Another said: “(I have) trouble relating clean elections and this resolution.  It may also be a conflict of interest working with student government and the elections.”
 
Ke Kalahea explains: “In response, Shawn replied that the money would not directly influence him because it would not be released until 2010.  In regards to the ethics, or the conflict of interests, it did not seem to be a pertinent matter to address ….”  Explained another UHHSA Senator, “There is a lot of money set aside for clean elections with no plan to utilize implemented, there is now the chance to utilize this money.”
 
UHHSA minutes indicate Leavey, who has since pulled papers to run for the House seat, claimed, “Today is the day to pass this because it may come up really soon in Legislature.”  But Ke Kalahea explains: “Shawn stated that he would like UHHSA to make a decision on that day, due to the fact that he would be holding a press conference on Monday February 25, and wanted to be able to have UHHSA’s backing for the press conference.”

At the next meeting, Leavey was removed from his office by the Senate, citing “unexcused absences.”  UHHSA President Justin Avery resigned.  The minutes record Avery saying: “Love you guys and have had a lot of fund. (sic)”
 
This is not the first time that Clean Elections activists have run afoul of ethical concerns.  Avery, the third place loser in the 2006 Hawai‘iCounty Council District 4 race, was recently fined $200 by the State Campaign Spending Commission.  He signed a ‘Conciliation Agreement’ which stated his campaign was “in violation of section 2-14.1-7 (a) HAR.”  According to the agreement, Avery’s campaign failed to deposit over $400 raised at a June 3, 2006, campaign yard sale.  In another violation, his campaign failed to record either campaign expenses or in-kind donations for food and refreshments and entertainment by the aptly named “Hilo Cry Babies” who performed at an August 25, 2006 campaign fundraiser.
 
More questions about Avery’s use of public funds for campaign activities were raised in September, 2007 when Avery hosted long-shot Democrat presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) at UH Hilo.  In Front Page Magazine this writer explained: “The event, funded by taxpayers, tuition, and student government fees, also featured a ‘Kucinich Hawai‘i Campaign Coordinator’ giving students detailed instructions on how to fill out cards to join the Hawai‘i Democratic Party and then directions on how to participate in the Hawai‘i Democrats’ Presidential Caucus in Hilo ‘at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2008.’  An UH Hilo administrator told this reporter that any campaigning at the event would be a violation of University rules possibly leading to sanctions against Avery.”
 
Advocates of “Voter Owned Elections” claim that “corporate” and “special interest” dollars are distorting the electoral process.  But Avery’s last-place finish in the council race likely stems from other factors.  Against a strong field of contenders, the Hawai‘i Free Press in 2006 nominated Avery as “Hawai‘i County’s most embarrassing candidate” explaining:
 
“Justin Avery is zero percent Hawaiian and moved here from Louisiana a few years back but he sports a shiny new Hawaiian middle name for his Council District 4 campaign - Pa`akaula.  Unfortunately for Avery he was unable to pronounce it when he announced his campaign at a Hilo concert earlier this summer.  Worse yet, he can’t spell it.
 
“Apparently Avery forgot the ‘kahako’ or macron above the third ‘a.’ This omission changes the meaning from Avery’s erstwhile self-image -- ‘strong prophet’ -- to instead translate as ‘tight shoelaces.’  In Hawaiian marks such as the kahako or the `okina make a big difference in the meaning of words.  For instance pa`a ka ula would mean ‘strong redness’ such as a candidate for office might experience when discovering that he could neither pronounce nor spell the fake Hawaiian name he thought would help him snare votes.

“But given his past history, it is logical for Avery to pretend to be something other than what he is.  The Global Hope Club, a student organization Avery heads at UH Hilo, often links its Web site to the ultra-right-wing anti-Semitic website WhatReallyHappened.com.  The web link was once again removed from the Global Hope Web site just in time for election season.  When it is up, according to Global Hope, ‘What Really Happened’ on 9-11-01 is that ‘Israelis’ attacked America.”

Avery and Leavey are typical of they type of candidates who could be expected to benefit from public funding.  Hawai‘i House and Senate races are ultra-retail campaigns which rely far more on shoe leather and one-on-one voter contact than on large-dollar funding.  In a state with one of the highest percentages of resident millionaires, there is no shortage of political funding for those who know how to run a campaign.  But seven years of non-stop Bush-bashing is creating a problem for Democrats -- many in their political base are weak-minded enough to believe the rhetoric.  For example: A 2007 Zogby Poll shows that as many as 42% of Democrats believe that President Bush conspired to either cause or allow the 9-11 attacks.  What such people don’t understand is why their political campaigns go nowhere.  Perhaps to them, just like the 9-11 attacks, it must all be a giant conspiracy.
 
The result of HB 661 becoming law could be a large field of Democratic candidates who are normally unelectable due to their 9-11 conspiracy theories, anti-Superferry agitation, advocacy for collectivized marijuana farms, and compulsive delusional fears about depleted uranium, GMOs, aspartame, thimerosal, tuberculosis tests, fluoridated water, and the various other pseudo-causes which have been entertained by the Legislature in recent sessions.  Under the current system many such candidates simply dry up and blow away because nobody will donate to their campaigns.  Although some are elected to the Legislature, they usually remain in the minority.
 
Under HB 661’s formula, the more money the “official” union-selected Democrat candidate raises, the more his opponents receive.  Democrat candidates have grown fat and lazy from being lifted up into office by union campaign workers and easy-money old-boy donations.  They could suddenly find themselves forced to work for their primary win against a field of candidates whose mental condition is more in tune with the base.  Otherwise unemployable activists would get paid campaign positions.  At the same time ‘normies’ running for office would be more likely to run as Republicans due to the availability of a Primary electorate more closely aligned with General Election voters
.
What kind of treatment could old-line Democrats expect to receive from the publicly-funded newcomers?  Events at UH Hilo give a preview.  Hawaii Free Press explained in 2006:

“At UH Hilo, Avery played a role in censoring an entire press run of the student newspaper Ke Kalahea in May, 2006 because it carried an article unfavorable to Global Hope.  In Spring 2006 he harassed cafeteria workers and UH administration staff as part of a campaign to drive out SODEXHO, the current UHH cafeteria service contractor.  Global Hope played a role in the fraudulent campaign to block the nomination of Iraq war veteran Dylan Nonaka as UH student regent.  He hounds the UHH Student Association (UHHSA) with constant demands for their participation in Global Hope’s anti-American and anti-capitalist initiatives.  Avery was the so-called ‘victim’ is a student government fracas which he provoked forcing the resignation of ‘Ipo’ Melendez as UHHSA Chair in 2005.  Avery, who now has the pretend Hawaiian name, was then quoted by the Tribune-Herald criticizing the Student Senate as being ‘Local oriented.’”
 
The election of only a handful of such candidates could produce a shift in the balance of power within the Democratic legislative caucus.  As Democrats’ recent knock-down fight over closed primaries shows, these activist types value so-called ideological purity over electoral success.  As Governor Lingle considers whether to veto the bill or not, the unions need to consider whether they really want to risk losing control by giving the activists any more power -- and any more money -- than they already have.

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