Rob Parsons

Follow the money

Campaign spending reports reveal candidate ties

by Rob Parsons

September 18, 2008

On the eve of Maui's Primary Election, most registered voters have a pretty good idea who they will choose at the polls on Saturday. Those choices may be based upon familiarity, past performance records of incumbents, stances on key issues, how effective a candidate's campaign has been, or even more trivial reasons such as one's ethnic background, age or the colors of their campaign signs.

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar employees listen to testimony at a meeting of the Commission for Water Resource Management.

Money can't buy you love, but political
influence is another matter.

For the most discerning voters, however, reviewing campaign donations can uncover key indications of how a candidate may later respond to development requests from landowners, developers, union representatives or other influential campaign donors. While there may be no crystal clear correlation from one to the other, the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission understands that transparency of the process is important enough to require reports to be submitted 10 days before this Saturday's Primary, and again before the General Election on November 4.

Back in 2002, voters rejected a re-election bid by Mayor James "Kimo" Apana after learning that a vast majority of his three-quarter of a million dollar campaign war chest came from off-island donations, mainly from Oahu. Apana tried to regain his mayoral seat in 2006, but fell short and finished third in a field of nine.

An examination of campaign spending reports by this year's candidates reveals far more modest contributions, more reflective of County Council and state legislative political budgets. Or perhaps the downturn of the local and national economy may be limiting individual donations. Nevertheless, a few clear distinctions can be drawn in key primary election races.

Last month at the Kula Community Association's Candidates Forum, House District 12 (Upcountry) challenger Summer Starr raised a question about incumbent Rep. Kyle Yamashita's contributions. Of 48 donations made in the first half of 2008 to his campaign fund, not one of Yamashita's donors listed an address within his district. At that time he reported an aggregate income of $10,556.88, with large donations coming from the Hawaii Operating Engineers ($2,000), United Brotherhood of Carpenters ($1,750) and professional lobbyists G.A. "Red" Morris and an associate, John Radcliffe ($2,500 total).

Morris, also listed as a contributor in the report filed on September 10, 2008, is one of Hawaii's leading lobbyists, representing 32 listed entities including Monsanto, Hawaii Superferry, Wal-Mart, A.I.G., Eli Lilly and Phillip Morris. The most recent filing also shows a $2,000 contribution from Gail Morris of Kaneohe, who is married to Morris. While she lists her occupation as "housewife" it gives rise to the question of whether her donation, combined with the $3,500 given by her husband and Radcliffe, constitutes "bundling", or exceeding the $2,000 limit set for donations to an individual campaign for a State House candidate.

Yamashita's latest report shows 69 donors, yet only six contributors list an address within his Upcountry district. Among those who gave a combined $17,694.87 more to his campaign are the Hawaii Association of Realtors ($2,000), Monsanto ($1,000), Lynn McCrory of Princeville, manager of Pahio Resort ($1,000), Maui Land & Pineapple ($1,000), Hawaii Streetbikers PAC ($950), ILWU ($750) and Dowling Company ($350).

By comparison, 35 of 62 contributors to Summer Starr's campaign are residents of the Upcountry District 12. Her campaign contribution report has the flavor of a family affair, with donations from her mother, father, brother, sister and aunt. She received $2,000 and an endorsement from the Patsy Mink Political Action Committee (PAC).

Starr raised slightly more than Yamashita, $17,806.72 in the most recent reporting period, as they head towards their Democratic party showdown in Saturday's primary. Other notable contributions to her campaign include $1,000 from Pardee Erdman of Ulupalakua and $2,000 each from Michael Honack of Kihei and Marc Turtletaub and Maureen Curran of Makena.

That South Maui trio also contributed $2,000 each to the campaigns of Natalie "Tasha" Kama, and Sol Kaho`ohalahala. An Internet search for Turtletaub indicates he's a film producer, with the 2006 hit Little Miss Sunshine to his credit, among others.

Kama, hoping to represent the House District 8 (Wailuku, Waikapu, Waihee), also is a recipient of the Patsy Mink PAC endorsement and $2,000 contribution. Of $16,259 received this year, Roderick Fong of Wailuku gave $1,000, as did Frank Zajac of Haiku. Kama also listed $2,000 each from John and Leontine Elder of Makawao and $114 from a Calabash neighborhood meeting at the Wailuku Community Center.

Incumbent Rep. Joe Souki filed reports indicating $26,550 raised in 2008, with $2,000 coming from tobacco giant Reynolds American in North Carolina. Souki's campaign received support from the Plumbers & Pipefitters PAC ($2,000), Hawaii Association of Realtors PAC ($2,000), Streetbikers Hawaii United PAC, lobbyists Morris and Radcliffe ($3,500 combined), Island Insurance Employees PAC ($1,000), A&B HIPAC ($800), retired First Hawaiian Bank CEO Walter Dods, Jr. ($500), Dale Hahn of Norwegian Cruise Lines ($250) and Everett Dowling ($250). Of 71 overall donations, only two came from addresses within his district.

West Maui County Council incumbent JoAnne Johnson is known for running an austere campaign, and reported only $2,000 each contributed by Curran and Turtletaub. Challenger Alan Fukuyama filed a short form, indicating $1,100 in funds received. The Friends of Cheyne Marten Committee did not file a campaign contribution report.

Council veteran Wayne Nishiki, seeking his old South Maui residency seat after Michelle Anderson announced she'd be moving to California for family reasons, also has no report on file. [Note: Should a candidate plan to raise and spend less than $1,000, there is no requirement to file a report.]

In the past, Nishiki has mailed back contributions to those seeking to support him, in particular landowners who may later seek development requests.

He also declined to meet privately with those seeking project approval, stating that discussions should take place in public, in the Council Chambers where the community can also participate.

It remains to be seen if Nishiki, whose last term on Council was in 2000-2001, will reach new voters with his laid-back campaigning style, or if name recognition and past experience alone will be sufficient.

Challenger Don Couch, former assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa and State Senate candidate, reported $18,091.76 raised in 2008. Most notable is $2,000 received from Charles Jencks, representative for the Honua`ula/ Wailea 670 development. Couch also listed support from CPA Mimi Hu ($2,000), Maui Land & Pineapple PAC ($1,000), ILWU Local 142 ($1,000, and their endorsement), United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners ($1,000), Spencer Homes ($1,000), T&S Building Consultants ($500) and realtor William Gresham ($250).

Norman Vares, also vying for the South Maui Council seat, reported income of $4,699.89 to his campaign. Except for $2,000 contributed by Local 675 Plumbers union, $1,000 by Nakama Plumbing and one donor who gave $185, the remainder was attributed to Vares himself and his son Troy.

Five candidates are running for the Lanai Council seat, which is being vacated as Council Chair Riki Hokama is finishing the last of his five two-year stints, reaching his term limit. Former Lanai Council member Sol Kaho`ohalahala has raised the most campaign funds, with $11,000. Alberta de Jetley reported $3,750, with all but two donors being Lanai residents.

John Ornellas listed six donations totaling $2,850, though none came from his home island. Matthew Mano's contributions were reported to be $2,720, topped by $2,000 given by the United Public Workers PAC. Winifred Basques did not file a campaign contribution report.

Senator Roz Baker (5th Senate District, South and West Maui) filed reports indicating $58,994 received during 2008 for her re-election campaign. Lahaina realtor Bart Mulvhill, who faces Baker in the Democratic Primary, failed to submit a report.

Hawaii's Campaign Spending Commission has provisions for matching funds to candidates who acquire a certain number of smaller donations. For example, should a County Council hopeful garner at least fifty donations of no more than $100, they qualify for state funds equal to the amount given by individual donors. For a grassroots candidate not seeking support of traditional power brokers, this provides a viable opportunity to run a campaign on a level playing field with those accepting funds from larger contributors. Of the races examined for the Primary Election, however, no one chose to pursue state matching funds.

While many voters look for a candidate whose stated position on key issues mirrors their own, campaign funding may reveal a bit more about a candidate's overall support base. For discerning voters, close examination of campaign contributions may provide the piece of the puzzle that helps reveal the entire picture about those aspiring to serve the Maui community in elected office..