Investigation reveals Walter Ritte broke Hawaii campaign spending laws: Big deal or so what?

| September 13, 2013 | 31 Comments

When Walter Ritte ran for the at-large seat for the Board of Trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, his campaign was based on a single platform principal: “Aloha ‘aina is a matter of our survival.”

Walter Ritte protesting GMOs on Molokai more than two years ago at the Lanikeha Center.

Walter Ritte protesting GMOs on Molokai more than two years ago at the Lanikeha Center.


But can the long-time environmental activist survive in the political world? Questions have recently been raised concerning how Ritte conducted his campaign and whether or not he violated Hawaii campaign spending laws.

Ritte, who lives in Ho’olehua, has long been known for his loud calls to action and sign-waving protests against those he feels are damaging Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems. As a self-proclaimed “aloha ‘aina warrior” he has fought battles to protect Kaho’olawe from military bombing as one of the original “Kaho’olawe Nine” and helped stop the development of La’au Point. He also helped author an article of the Hawaii State Constitution, which codifies Native Hawaiian cultural and gathering rights.

Ritte was the only at-large OHA candidate coming from a neighbor island but still campaigned vigorously. Not surprisingly, Ritte finished fourth in November of 2012 with 34,879 votes, or 8 percent of the tally, losing to Haunani Apoliona of Oahu who received 103,735 or 23.8 percent of the vote.

But was Ritte’s funding part of a well-organized anti-GMO coalition from the mainland that is now funding legislative efforts to ban GMO activity on Kauai and the Big Island? A report published Sept. 4 on Forbes.com accuses Ritte of receiving campaign funds that have been funneled through a private foundation in Minnesota known as Ceres Trust to help sustain his anti-GMO activities.

What makes these donations illegal and a source of controversy is that they appear to have violated Chapter 11, Part XIII of the Hawaii campaign spending laws. Section 11-362 of the law states: “Contributions from all persons who are not residents of the state at the time the contributions are made shall not exceed 30 percent of the total contributions received by a candidate or candidate committee for each election period.”

The story on Forbes.com written by Jon Entine, director of the Genetic Literacy Project, claims that Ritte received more than 80 percent of his total contributions from out-of-state sources. The GLP claims that its mission is to explore “… the intersection of DNA research, media and policy to disentangle science from ideology.”

One theme of the story is that anti-GMO activists “have attempted to frame this battle as David vs. Goliath — threadbare grassroots campaigners fighting Big Ag. Although they claim their opposition to the innovative technology is home grown, a Genetic Literacy Project investigation, still in its infancy, suggests that the opposition is flush with cash.” The investigation found that Ceres Trust has “pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into two major allied groups: Hawaii Seed and Washington-based Center for Food Safety (CFS), which has played a key legal and logistical mainland-based support role for activists in Hawaii.”

Local activist Walter Ritte led the march down Kamehameha V Highway from Kulana 'Oiwi to Kaunakakai during a protest walk in March of this year.

Local activist Walter Ritte led the march down Kamehameha V Highway from Kulana ‘Oiwi to Kaunakakai during a protest walk in March of this year.


An independent investigation conducted by The Molokai News dug a little deeper into the specific allegations made against Ritte. After reviewing the report filed with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission by the Friends of Walter Ritte Committee, it appears that $17,745.45 of the $21,918.43 received — or 81 percent — did come from non-Hawaii residents.

Two large contributions that have come into questions account for $17,000 of the total non-resident contributions. John and Susan Scarlett contributed $5,000 while Kent Whealy and Judith Kern gave $6,000 apiece. The report filed with the HCSC shows Hawaii addresses for these large contributors but Entine’s investigation claims these were fabricated.

Ritte’s report shows an address of 115 Lua St., Kaunakakai for John and Susan Scarlett. No such address exists on Molokai. When asked about this discrepancy, Ritte said John Scarlett, a doctor and CEO of the biotechnology firm Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, Calif., is his first cousin on his father’s side. “It’s normal in Hawaii for ‘ohana to kokua ‘ohana,” said Ritte.

A tax record search shows that the Scarletts do in fact own property on Molokai, at 115 and 122 Ulua Road in the Kawela Plantation subdivision. They also own two other vacant lots in Kawela. But no homeowner’s exemption is claimed, indicating that neither property is a primary residence. An Austin, Texas address is given for them.

For Kent Whealy and Judith Kern, Ritte’s report offers an address of 12-112 Alaiki St, Pahoa, HI on the Big Island. Whealy is listed in Wikipedia as … “an American activist, journalist and philanthropist who co-founded Seed Savers Exchange and has promoted organic agriculture and the saving of heirloom seeds.” These two have made previous large contributions to the California anti-GMO labeling campaign and a Decorah, Iowa address was given for both of them.

The tax records show the Pahoa address belongs to a Harold D. Stevens and the property is listed as a gay Hawaii bed and breakfast. When confronted with this information, Ritte offered no comment.

Although not stated in his story, Entine claims that Ritte is now under investigation. “I can tell you for a fact that he’s under investigation,” wrote Entine, but would provide no other details or explanation as to who exactly is doing the investigation.

Gary Kam, legal counsel for HCSC, would not comment on whether there is an active investigation being conducted on Ritte. This will not be public information, he said, unless it is referred to the Commission for action. He did say that there has been no past enforcement action taken against Ritte.

Kam also mentioned that the violation may be moot and unenforceable anyway. Apparently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided, prior to 2012, that it was unconstitutional to limit contributions from out of state sources, said Kam. This was based on a case in which a University of Hawaii student contribution was considered valid even though the student had a permanent address on the mainland.

The facts show that Ritte may have falsified his campaign contribution report. Without Ritte’s response, it is unknown if this was intentional deception on his part, a paperwork error or simply ignorance of the law.

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Sites That Link to this Post

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  3. Jon Entine corporate propagandist | Propagandists | June 10, 2014
  1. mkklolo says:

    Res ipsa loquitur.

  2. steve says:

    i’d say “big deal AND so what”.

    this shows uncle waltah is a definite novice in the political ring, but little else.

    while not a fan of some of walter’s tactics, i admire the fact da’braddah puts up rather than shuts up for the lonely isle.

  3. RT says:

    congratulations to the molokai news for having the nerve to print this story. thank you and good job, especially for the extra investigative journalism. we love it.

    i’ll bet a $100 donation to the charity of da kine’s choice that we never see this mentioned in the other newspaper of molokai.

    would love to write the board of directors of geron and show them what a crook they have for a ceo.

    hope this doesn’t get swept under the rug and we can finally rid ourselves of this crooked scourge on molokai – send him to kahoolawe to survive.

    you are a dirty rotten scoundrel. shame on you and all of your partner crooks!

    • kalaniua ritte says:

      and u are a coward who stays behind his computer and call people names annomously….what a joke

      • Ad Hominem says:

        Kalaniua, you are a broken record. You do more harm for Anti-GMO movements and your family by constantly going on to the internet and making a fool of yourself, your family and the movements that you proclaim to be of importance to you.

        What is certainly important to you is knowing the name of the person who disagrees with you so you can attack or make fun of that person as you do over and over again.

        Perhaps use your ears and mouth in proportion (listen more than you speak), and follow the gentler kinder ways of your lovely wife.

        PS David, great article. It is time that people who work the system be held to account when they cheat.

        • kalaniua ritte says:

          attack me or my family wit personal stuff then i attack u wit personal stuff..keep to the facts ill keep to the facts..any time u like try fix this broken record come on down….,i dont give a rats ass who is listening or wat people think about how i do wat i do..

        • kalaniua ritte says:

          is ad hominem your real name or are u just one of them cowards…if i attack say RT,im not actually attacking a real person because rt is just some made up person… so AD if you want me or anyone else to respect u or wat u say put your name behind it

  4. geneva castro says:

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The man, Mr. Forbes author, once more finding a way to put down the gente for speaking out.

  5. fh says:

    It is always good to know to whom our political leaders are beholden. Thanks David.

    Now who is Neil beholden to as he tries to stoke up the windmill/undersea cable fires again.

  6. HAWAIIANGIRL says:

    DAH. A lot more investigation should be done on the amount of moolah he gets as grants. He does not look out for Molokai. Mahalo for printing this. Good luck in staying safe.

  7. Loke Gandeza says:

    Mr. Lichtenstein,
    This article is so disappointing :( There is nothing but assumptions and suggestions, without evidence to back up any intentional wrongdoing.

    The best proof you have in this article is that David Entine says so?

    (Quoted from your article) “Although not stated in his story, Entine claims that Ritte is now under investigation. “I can tell you for a fact that he’s under investigation,” wrote Entine, but would provide no other details or explanation as to who exactly is doing the investigation.”

    Of course he would not provide any details, because there aren’t any. This story is nothing more than a hatchet job designed to attack and discredit Walter for being an active voice against pesticides and gmo’s.

    Has anyone wondered why a regular Forbes contributor would be so focused on a small Hawaii OHA election, where the person running for office didn’t even win the election? It makes sense when you discover who David Entine really is!!

    A few searches in GOOGLE shows that Entine’s lucrative empire includes a media consultancy with clients Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and formerly with Monsanto, a pro-chemical book deal with the Monsanto-funded American Council On Science And Health, a GMO media lobbying outfit called The Genetic Literacy Project, a relationship with STATS (George Mason University ‘advocate scientific and statistical methods as the best way of analyzing and solving society’s problems’), Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Health and Risk Communication (George Mason University) and he is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (with a focus on anti-environmental issues)

    All these professional and Academic positions yet Entine has no science degree, no statistics degree, and no medical degree. When you dig a little deeper you see that David Entine is nothing more than a “PAID PRO-GMO ACTIVIST” with a BA in Philosophy!

    So what’s David Entine doing advising the public on medical, statistical and health issues? Why would Bill Gates and Monsanto finance his empire?

    Answer: Mainstream media access. Entine was a producer for Tom Brokaw (NBC News) and ABC News. Entine’s empire is based on tapping his media background to counter consumer resistance to genetically modified products.

    http://therefusers.com/refusers-newsroom/meet-jon-entine-pro-monsanto-gmo-activist-and-pro-bill-gates-activist/#.UjVqIj9jFzU

    More links about David Entine that might interest you:
    http://www.elle.com/news/culture/gmo-food-debate
    http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/14800
    http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/02/atrazine-syngengta-tyrone-hayes-jon-entine

    If you want a real story to investigate, lets investigate how many politicians have received money from Monsanto and other chemical companies and then submitted bills like H.B. NO. 1226 to the Legislature to protect GMO companies!!

    • molokainews says:

      Aloha Loke,
      Thanks for your response. I am no defender or apologist for Jon (not David) Entine. I simply used the information he disclosed as a jumping off point for my own investigation. This has nothing to do with Walter’s politics, it has to do with the ethics he showed in running his campaign. It seems like he did evade Hawaii’s campaign finance disclosure laws. If any public figure breaks the law while seeking office, even if it is minor, the public has the right to now. The story is neither pro-GMO nor anti-GMO, it is simply pro-transparency in regards to how political campaigns are conducted.
      DL

      • Loke Gandeza says:

        Your own story states that the violation may be unenforceable because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided, prior to 2012 that it was unconstitutional to limit contributions from out of state sources.

        There has been no official investigation that has charged Walter of any wrongdoing but your headline doesn’t state that he is suspected of breaking campaign spending laws, you state he did “Break the Law”. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply here? He reported the contributions he received, with the names and addresses the contributor provided. That hardly seems reason enough to claim wrongdoing without an official investigation.

        • molokainews says:

          Loke, It is Uncle Walter’s responsibility to make sure the addresses on his contribution report are accurate. True, it might not be enforced but he still broke the law and the public has the right to know. Doesn’t matter if candidate is Kanoho Helm, Stacy Crivello or anyone else, the public deserves to know where the money comes from.

    • fh says:

      If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger.

    • Moms Hui says:

      It’s ok that biotechnology has donated over $58k to Abercrombie and over $18k to Clarence Nishihara. The rules are skewed. Entine is a liar and a very mean person. He hadn’t been on island 24 hours before he was calling locals names and he ran around the islands telling moms that Atrazine is safe, and glyphosate is benign.
      Let’s investigate his supposed non-profit before we listen to a word that man says.

      • molokainews says:

        I agree, Entine is kind of a jerk. When I asked him about the problems of superweeds created through mutations caused by the overuse of glyphosate on GMO plants, he became sarcastic and accused me of having some ideological agenda before finally admitting that GMOs have created this problem (though he believes the problem is minimal compared to the benefits of GMOs). His website for his group, Genetic Literacy Project, claims that it receives no support from any corporation or special interest group. It also posts the names and faces of a lot of genetic scientists who support his work. I would be curious to find out if he does have an agenda beyond bringing transparency and clarity to the complex scientific and public policy issues surrounding genetic research. If anyone does a valid investigation on his group I would be glad to post it.

  8. I always wondered how Uncle Walter, a Hoolehua “farmer,” had so much money to travel to other islands. Has he always had his hand out for different kinds of grant money to live on; who runs the farm? What other grants has he received? Why did he run for OHA – a state agency; seems philosophically dishonest? Finally, does the end justify the means? Pretty ruthless in my opinion. Lost my respect and trust for him long before this article.

    SB

    • Loke Gandeza says:

      Wow, and just how “ruthless” is it to make up facts about a person and attempt to pass it off as truth? If you knew anything about the person your trying to defame you’d at least know where he’s been working full-time for the last 10+ years, but hey who needs the truth when you can make up your own dirt to back up your “ruthless theories”. Your respect or lack of it for Walter is meaningless if you aren’t worthy of respect yourself.

    • Kalaniua Ritte says:

      rob that tattoo on your face must be blurring your vision

  9. rt says:

    the silence from the offending party is deafning, eh David?

    he must under orders to keep quiet from his defense lawyer. Or just too embarrassed by this article to crawl out from his cave and see the sun.

    Only a couple others to expose and we can get back on our feet.

    would like to meet John & Susan Scarlett sometime for a drink and ask them about their choice of ohana. highly doubt any blood exists in that ‘cousin’ relationship.

    • Loke Gandeza says:

      Do you even have the slightest idea how ridiculous you sound right now?

      • steve says:

        rt does sound ridiculous EXCEPT for the part where he notes the candidate’s silence.

        walter can come on here and clear things up OR (i’ll wager) david would do an interview.

        i bet the entire thing could be made a lot clearer in about 2 questions (and answers).

        on a side note- it’s great to see such passion pour from the lonely isle commenters (sans the name-calling). it’s my hope this level of passion is shown when some outsider tries to install a traffic signal in downtown k’kai.

        if anything says “there goes the neighborhood”, it’d be a stop light.

        • Loke Gandeza says:

          I can’t speak for Walter obviously, but I think if someone like Walter had to stop and defend himself against anyone who decides to make an accusation against him, he’d be wasting a lot of time and energy! If there were truly a crime done here, they’re would be a formal “OFFICIAL” investigation happening. Since there isn’t one, this whole conversation is pointless.

          On a side note, mahalo for your input.

          • molokainews says:

            You are right Loke, Walter is innocent under the law until proven guilty. But just because you haven’t heard about any investigation doesn’t mean something wrong didn’t happen. Laws are broken all the time without any official action being taken. In this case, the evidence shows that Walter did violate campaign laws, he’s just gotten away with it … so far.

        • b j schwind says:

          yeah,i agree on the stoplight. but hows about a roundabout instead ? i think it could work and be much more desirable. as far as walter goes: he’s done great work for the lonely isle and even for the friendly isle !

    • Kalaniua Ritte says:

      rt why don’t you crawl out of your cave and expose these people…oh shit cowards like you will never do that,they just sit in their caves scared of everything an everybody….i would love to meet you an have some drinks and ask u wat the f**k u doing on molokai

  10. Milton Omori says:

    Sad to see local people selling out to mainland interests.

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