Blurring the lines: Marzo campaign doesn’t report lava mask giveaway

  • Ikaika Marzo

Mayoral candidate Ikaika Marzo has been posting videos of himself on his “Marzo for Mayor” Facebook campaign page traveling the island giving away masks that were originally donated for the 2018 Puna lava flow crisis.

Marzo said Thursday he’s not engaging in campaign activity by donating the masks to island hospitals, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations battling the coronavirus pandemic because he’d do the same thing whether he was running for mayor or not. The videos are to raise public awareness of the need for masks, he said, not to promote his candidacy.

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“I’m trying to get it to the people … people that actually need it,” Marzo said. “If it were for campaign activity, we’d be giving them to hotels, to unions, like that.”

Marzo is not wearing campaign attire, nor does he say he’s a mayoral candidate in the videos on his campaign page.

But the campaign has been involved. In addition to the Facebook campaign videos showing the mask donations, Marzo’s campaign manager Selma Kettwich sent a letter using the campaign email address to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald taking issue with the newspaper’s March 26 article that mentioned Marzo’s mask donation in a feature about the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island.

State law requires reporting of all monetary and non-monetary campaign contributions aggregating to $100 or more during the campaign period. Marzo’s April 30 report filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission does not include the in-kind donation of the masks.

Marzo said the masks were a late donation from “community members” to Pu‘uhonua o Puna, a hui also known as “the Hub,” at the end of the Puna lava crisis. He said he got approval from the contributors to donate the masks to those who needed them when the COVID-19 crisis began.

Pu‘uhonua o Puna is not registered as a nonprofit with the IRS or as a charity with the state attorney general. Marzo said he was a founder and president of the organization but stepped down to run for mayor.

Another founder, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, is listed as secretary on a June 17, 2018, trade name registration filed with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. The group is categorized as an unincorporated association.

Even without the nonprofit designation that would have allowed donors to report their contributions on their income tax, Kierkiewicz was able to raise $77,355 from 664 donors on a GoFundMe page she established May 10, 2018. The page promises “All money raised will go directly to residents impacted by recent lava activities.” It’s unclear if other donations came in through other avenues.

No county tax money went to the hui, Finance Director Deanna Sako said.

Hawaii’s charitable solicitation law requires charitable organizations that solicit contributions in Hawaii to register with the attorney general unless they fall under a number of exemptions, such as churches, educational institutions, hospitals and organizations that normally receive less than $25,000 in contributions and do not pay a professional fundraiser, according to the state attorney general’s website. Pu‘uhonua o Puna is not registered on the searchable website.

Kierkiewicz said Thursday that all of the money from the GoFundMe page was deposited in the Pu‘uhonua o Puna account with the Bank of Hawaii. None of it has been spent, she said.

“Pu‘uhonua o Puna received donations of masks and respirators during the eruption,” Kierkiewicz said. “I am not aware of any funds raised being used to purchase these items.”

She said the hui decided not to go ahead with original plans to create a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit and instead will send the money to registered nonprofits to distribute.

Half will go to Hawaiian Community Assets, whose mission is to “build the capacity of low- and moderate-income communities to achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency with a particular focus on Native Hawaiians.” The other half will go to Kilauea Hui, a coalition of nonprofits including Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Hawaiian Community Assets, and others that meet regularly to “assist survivors with unmet needs in collaboration with the disaster case management program at Neighborhood Place of Puna,” according to their websites.

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Kierkiewicz is also leaving the board.

“While I am one of a dozen founders of the Hub, my final kuleana is to complete the transfer to nonprofits and publish a report on how money was utilized by HCA and K-Hui to support eruption recovery so donors are aware of the positive impact their kokua had on Puna,” Kierkiewicz said.

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