Commission says Rep. Cachola misused campaign funds


HONOLULU — The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission said Democratic Rep. Romy Cachola misused campaign funds, and it asked him to pay nearly $70,000 in reimbursements and fines.

Cachola drove a Nissan Pathfinder purchased with more than $30,000 in campaign funds for non-campaign activities, said Gary Kam, the commission’s general counsel.

“We’re cooperating with the investigation and trying to give them all the documents they asked him for,” said Cachola’s attorney, Michael Green. “We don’t believe he’s done anything wrong.”

Cachola bought the sports utility vehicle while running for re-election to the Honolulu City Council, where he had served since 2004, according to the Campaign Spending Commission. He won re-election in 2008.

“One of the reasons why we looked into it is because buying a car is unusual,” Kam told The Associated Press on Thursday. “If you purchase a vehicle or other durable assets, you have to reimburse the campaign for personal use — and that did not happen in this case.”

Most candidates use their own personal cars for campaigning, and then seek reimbursement for mileage incurred during the campaign, Kam said.

While driving the car purchased with campaign funds, Cachola also received a car allowance from the Honolulu City Council, according to public records. Cachola received an allowance of $250 per month nearly every month from March 2008, when he bought the car, until July 2012. He also listed the Pathfinder as his primary vehicle when he applied for a parking spot at the Legislature, according to the complaint.

The commission hired an investigator who trailed Cachola for a week in January and saw him driving the vehicle to work and church. Investigators peered into the car and saw no campaign signs or posters, they said.

Cachola also spent unusual amounts on public relations from 2011 to 2013, paying more than $2,700 in chunks of $50 to $200 to dozens of individuals, according to the complaint. Candidates running for mayor or governor sometimes hire public relations firms, but most candidates running for seats in the statehouse do not, Kam said. Those who do hire public relations help usually pay firms, not individuals, he said.

Cachola wrote a letter to the commission in April asking for more time to respond because of the busy legislative calendar. A request for an extension was denied.

But after attorneys for Cachola dropped off documents stating that Cachola had made some reimbursement payments, commission officials chose to grant a continuance on Wednesday.

“If there’s any monies that are in dispute or in question, we’d rather pay that and worry about it later on,” Green said.