HI House leader steps down amid campaign spending investigation
AWANA: State campaign spending commission found dozens of potential violations.
by Malia Zimmerman October 7, 2013 Watchdog.org
HONOLULU — State Rep. Karen Awana is out as Democrat House majority leader.
But her political career isn’t over and her pocketbook may be significantly lighter.
Awana stepped down Friday, just five days before the Hawaii State Campaign Spending Commission will decide whether to levy as much as $8,590 in fines for dozens of violations of the state’s campaign spending law, including “filing false or inaccurate reports.”
House Speaker Joseph Souki said Awana, a four-term Democrat, submitted a letter of resignation to him, which he accepted, stating, “under the circumstances, she did not want to distract from the important work of the body.”
“I appreciate all that Representative Awana has done for the House and after much consideration I have accepted her resignation so that she may focus on rectifying her situation,” Souki said.
On Wednesday, the campaign spending commission will consider a recommendation by Gary Kam, the commission’s general counsel, to fine Awana for nine counts of filing false or inaccurate reports, 24 counts for untimely campaign donation deposits and failure to keep records.
The commission fined Awana before for the same violations. In 2012, that body fined her twice in the amounts of $6,800 and $400 for filing false or inaccurate reports, failing to make timely deposits of her contribution checks and for failing to keep accurate records. She still owes $800 in fines for filing false reports dating back to 2008, Kam said.
Kam subpoenaed Awana’s bank records again this year because she sent a $3,800 payment to pay for previous fines and the check bounced. She had just reported having $16,000 in her Friends of Karen Awana campaign bank account and “no activity.”
“I could not understand how the $3,800 check would bounce if she had $16,000 in her account,” Kam said.
The bank records Kam obtained showed Awana had 54 different suspicious activities, including purchases of items as small as $3.03 for Baskin & Robbins ice cream, but she could only produce receipts upon request for three of the items, Kam said. Awana told Kam several food charges to her campaign were for volunteers. Under Hawaii law, candidates and elected officials must keep records for five years.
Kam said he was surprised Awana claimed to have “no activity” when she filed her most recent report after she’d submitted a notice of holding a fundraiser in April, meaning she typically would have campaign contributions and expenditures.
While Awana is no majority leader, Souki said it’s his hope the House “can move ahead” and name Awana as chairman of the newly created Committee on Culture and the Arts & International Affairs in the upcoming legislative session.