Campaign spending fine proposed for Atay

Campaign Spending Commission staff members find probable cause to believe law has been violated

Brian Bardellini (right), executive assistant to Maui County Council Member Alika Atay, speaks into the ear of Atay during a July 11 council Budget and Finance Committee. The state Campaign Spending Commission is proposing a $2,700 fine for Atay. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Staff of the state Campaign Spending Commission has filed a complaint against Maui County Council Member Alika Atay, his campaign, Friends of Alika Atay, and its treasurer.

Commission staff members propose a $2,700 fine and a finding from the commission that there is probable cause to believe Hawaii campaign finance law has been violated. If the fine is assessed, it would have to be paid by Atay’s personal funds within 20 days if his campaign organization doesn’t have sufficient funds.

The Maui News contacted Atay’s office for comment Friday afternoon, but his office could not immediately respond.

The commission staff complaint, filed Aug. 6, alleges two counts of unauthorized handling of campaign funds.

In one count, Atay executive assistant Brian Bardellini, who serves as chairman of the Friends of Alika Atay, is alleged to have written 14 checks totaling $12,643 drawn from the campaign account. And, in another count, Atay himself is alleged to a written two checks totaling $186.46 from the account.

The complaint says that, under Hawaii law, only the campaign’s treasurer and deputy treasurer are authorized to receive contributions or make or incur expenditures of campaign funds on behalf of the campaign organization. Neither Bardellini nor Atay is the campaign’s treasurer or deputy treasurer, the complaint points out.

The complaint alleges five counts of submitting false reports. The allegations note inconsistencies between bank records and reports filed with the commission. The counts stemmed from Atay campaign filings for the periods of July 1 to July 29, 2016; July 30 to Aug. 13, 2016; Aug. 14 to Oct. 24, 2016; Oct. 25 to Nov. 8, 2016; and Nov. 9 to Dec. 31, 2016.

The commission is scheduled to hear the complaint during its next meeting Wednesday where it can: 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 for prosecution.

Atay was elected to the council’s Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat in November 2016. He narrowly defeated former Council Member Dain Kane. Now, Atay chairs the council’s Water Resources Committee.

Atay, who has drawn political support from the progressive ‘Ohana Coalition, faces former Council Member Alice Lee in the Nov. 6 general election. Lee served as a council member from 1989 to 1998 when she made an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

Atay has drawn fire for the actions and behavior of Bardellini, his executive assistant.

A council committee is reviewing a $100,000 county grant awarded to Bardellini for events honoring Queen Ka’ahumanu’s 250th birthday in March.

Bardellini has reportedly been barred since October from the seventh floor of the county building, where the Office of Council Services is located, for violating a workplace violence policy, according to multiple county workers.

And, Bardellini has been banned from interacting with state Department of Agriculture workers or visiting department offices statewide because of abusive language, inappropriate behavior and attempts to provoke physical confrontations with staff members over a three-year period, department officials said.

More recently, county Office of Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen told council Budget and Finance Committee members in September that $46,000 of a $100,000 grant awarded to Bardellini for the Ka’ahumanu birthday event was being withheld because of reports of unpaid vendors from funds already dispersed.