Ing hit with 31 campaign spending violations

Spending panel’s complaint says state lawmaker failed to disclose contributions and expenditures

Kaniela Ing

The state Campaign Spending Commission has filed a complaint against South Maui state Rep. Kaniela Ing for allegedly failing to disclose more than $100,000 in campaign contributions and expenditures.

The commission filed its complaint Tuesday and lists 31 counts of campaign spending violations. The violations include filing false reports, accepting excessive contributions and using his campaign funds for personal expenses.

Over a period of five and a half years, Ing allegedly failed to disclose $28,915.72 in contributions and $87,559.89 in expenditures — which was about 62 percent of his total expenditures.

The complaint filed by Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao will be taken up by commissioners Wednesday. The commission staff recommended a fine of $15,422 from Ing’s personal funds.

The commission subpoenaed Ing’s bank records dating from May 2011 to December 2016. Based on a staff review of the bank records and Ing’s reports to the commission around the same time period, all 23 reports were “not true, complete and accurate,” according to the complaint.

“It’s serious,” Izumi-Nitao said in a phone call Thursday. “Think of 23 consecutive reports that did not accurately report his contributions and expenditures, which amounted to a lot of money. Had we not subpoenaed the bank accounts we would not have known how serious these counts were.”

Bank records showed Ing used his campaign accounts to pay rent to landlords on Oahu and Maui for $750 and $625, respectively, according to the complaint. Another $219.55 transfer was used to pay a VISA bill for his domestic partner Khara Jabola-Carolus.

All three transfers were made Oct. 4, 2016, from one of Ing’s campaign accounts with Bank of Hawaii, according to the complaint. The withdrawal slip initially had Ing’s personal account, but that information was crossed out and replaced with the campaign account.

The commission is asking him to reimburse his campaign, Friends of Kaniela Ing, $2,344 in “personal expenses” and pay a fine for commingling the accounts.

Ing admitted in a phone call with The Maui News on Thursday that he made some mistakes, but he clarified that they were “bookkeeping in nature” and “clear there was no ill intent or malice.” He said he intends to fully cooperate with the commission.

“I’m not a professional accountant,” Ing said. “I’m not making any excuses for any mistakes, but if you’ve been around campaigns, you’re just a one-man band doing the work of 10 people. That’s what I’ve been doing up until this year.”

Ing said he managed much of his finances in his early 20s on his own, while campaigning door to door in South Maui. He said he was working at the Four Seasons in Wailea from 4 a.m. to noon and would be knocking on doors to sunset.

“That was where the accounting errors began,” he said.

Other findings in the complaint included Ing’s arrest for failing to appear in court for a vehicle insurance violation in 2016. Ing reportedly called commission staff asking if he could use campaign funds to pay for legal fees, which he was told he could not.

Ing also allegedly exceeded the expenditure limit for the 2012 general election by spending $18,494.56 — a little more than $1,300 over the limit. He did not notify the commission that he exceeded the limit, according to the complaint.

At the commission’s next meeting, the board may “summarily dismiss the complaint, investigate further, make a preliminary determination of the existence of probable cause to believe a violation of law has been committed, or refer the complaint to an appropriate prosecuting attorney for prosecution,” according to its agenda.

Ing said many people have asked him if the complaint and other scrutiny he has received over the past couple months is politically motivated. He said the issues seem to question his authenticity and trustworthiness, which he plans to counter with positivity and responsibility.

The 29-year-old is in a crowded race for the urban Oahu U.S. House seat being vacated by Colleen Hanabusa, who is making a run for governor. The race includes Lt. Gov. Douglas Chin, state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Kalihi Valley-Moanalua-Halawa), Rep. Beth Fukumoto (D-Mililani-Waipio Acres) and Honolulu City Councilman Ernie Martin.

“I know we have the winning message, and I think we’re speaking with a new level of truth very rare in politics,” Ing said. “I think it’s making a lot of folks uncomfortable, especially lobbyists.”

Ing has assembled a team of accountants, lawyers and advisers to assist his campaign. He said he was thankful to the commission for its work to ensure transparency in the process.

“It’s a lesson learned that you need a lot of help,” he said. “After reviewing our records, I’m confident they’re not going to find any purposeful violations.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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