Nearly two dozen individuals made personal contributions totaling at least $20,000 to dozens of candidates in the 2012 election, according to an analysis of newly available data provided by the Campaign Spending Commission.

Alone at the top of the high rollers list are lobbyists John Radcliffe and George “Red” Morris, principals in Capitol Consultants of Hawaii, who combined to make a staggering $169,800 in contributions during the calendar years 2011 and 2012, the data show.

Radcliffe ranked No. 1 with a reported $96,000 in contributions, followed by Morris with $73,800.

Their client list includes heavyweights such as AIG, Altria (parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris), AT&T, Corrections Corporation of America, Michigan casino operator Marketing Resource Group, Monsanto, and Wal-Mart, among others.

Radcliffe and Morris are the only lobbyists to break into the ranks of top individual contributors, which is dominated largely by familiar local business leaders.

The duo’s average was almost twice that of the next biggest spender, Maui developer Stanford Carr, who distributed $43,913 to his favored candidates.

Contributions by other veteran lobbyists during the two-year period were modest by comparison. For example, Bob Toyofuku (clients include Hawaiian Airlines, NBC Universal Media, and Aloha Care) gave $18,475; Rick Tsujimura (clients include Hertz, T-Mobile, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, and General Motors), $11,750; Gary Slovin, (clients include Altria Client Services, American Insurance Association, McDonalds, Microsoft, and Walgreens) $10,825; and Tim Lyons (clients include Anheuser-Busch, Roofing Contractors Association of Hawaii, Hawaii Business League), $9,750.

Radcliffe said he was proud of his record as a contributor.

“Having run for political office myself,  and knowing how very difficult that is, I have always believed that it is a duty and an honor to contribute to the political campaigns of candidates with whom one agrees,” he said in an email.

“In fact, I have given a lot of speeches on the subject, saying that it is a duty of all citizens to exercise one’s right to give contributions if one can do so,” Radcliffe said. “And that everyone, every citizen,  ought to make it a practice to contribute if they can. Too few give. Too few participate in the political process. More ought to.”

“I urge that more citizens support candidates,” he wrote. “The entire political spectrum would benefit.”

Morris, in a separate email, said he concurred with Radcliffe’s comments.

The top donors are overwhelmingly male, and most are clearly associated with special economic interests. A list of all those who contributed a total of $10,000 or more can be found here.

Neal Milner, emeritus professor of political science at UH Manoa, was surprised by the size of the reported contribution totals.

“I’m not surprised that two of the best known lobbyists in the state gave more money,” Milner said yesterday. “It’s how much more they gave, and how different they are from other lobbyists, that’s the startling thing.”

“It not just that they’re heavy hitters, they appear to hit in ways that may be different from other lobbyists,” Milner said.

Of course, these individual contributions are only the tip of the influence iceberg, since major contributors typically leverage their own money with other people’s money to amass political capital. In addition to their individual contributions, major political players can influence contributions by their businesses or other associated companies, along with those of other officers and employees. The more money, the more clout the contributors hope to wield.

For example, two executives of Mitsunaga & Associates made the list of top donors — Dennis Mitsunaga, president, and Chan Ok Mitsunaga, vice president. The two combined to give $64,600.

But 11 other officers and employees brought the total of Mitunaga-related contributions to $169,950.

Similarly, Alexander & Baldwin CEO Stanley Kuriyama made the list with $28,350 in personal political contributions. But corporate contributions by A&B, its affiliated political action committee, and several other executives boosted the corporation’s total contributions to $105,850.

Patrick Kobayashi, president of the Kobayashi Group, was in fifth place on the top donor list with $39,850 in personal contributions. When combined with contributions from other Kobayashi Group executives and employees, the total rises to $78,375.

Milner said these contribution patterns reflect a fundamental problem in politics, the issue of access.

“This shows in a very graphic way just how profound the differences in access are between those with power, influence, and money, and the rest of us,” Milner said.

The data show the major influence of large contributions. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, less than one-quarter of all contributions to candidates were $1,000 or more, but they accounted for two-thirds of all money raised.

Fewer than 4 percent of contributions were for $2,500 or more, but they accounted for 27 percent of all funds raised.

The median household income for a family of four in Hawaii during 2011, the latest year available, was $61,821. Clearly, its a relatively small segment of the population that can afford this level of political contributions and the access it brings.

“You vote, then you can call or write your legislator, and our legislature is very open,” Milner said. “The formal kinds of politics are relatively open and democratic, but a lot of politics gets done in places that are less visible, less formal.”

“Money doesn’t guarantee you anything, but these contributions certainly provide access,” he said.

Until recently, the data necessary to track contributions across all races and candidates was not publicly available, although the Campaign Spending Commission has made the data it collects from candidates, political action committees, and corporations, available online since 1996.

Tony Baldomero, associate director of the Campaign Spending Commission, said the commission is moving quickly to take its raw database of information gathered from candidates and political committees, and make it directly available to the public.

The database of contributions to candidates became available online a few months ago, and the commission has followed by posting additional data on campaign expenditures, loans, and other reported items.

“In the regular searchable database we have used in the past, the data remained behind the curtain,” Baldomero said. “You can search for something, but you don’t have direct access to the data.”

“I’m removing the curtain,” he said, pointing to the data that now includes nearly 80,000 contributions dating back to the beginning of the 2007-2008 election cycle.

Up until now, Baldomero has been manually transferring data from the commission’s internal database to the state’s portal (data.hawaii.gov). He is now working to automate the process so that the information from future reports filed by candidates and other political committees will be automatically added to the public database as soon as it is filed.

“I may still have to press a button,” he said with a laugh.


Read Ian Lind’s blog at iLind.net.

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