For Randy Iwase and Jim Boersma, setting up their own super PAC proved harder than expected.
Boersma, who served a stint as Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s communications director and helped him with his 2010 campaign, and Iwase, a former legislator who headed the unsuccessful Democratic ticket for governor in 2006, wanted to help candidates who reflected their ideals on what was best for Hawaii’s future.
They even drew up a mission statement that explained their PAC’s goals, including helping keiki and kupuna, supporting local businesses that create good jobs and spur sustainable growth, and protecting the environment but also encouraging smart development.
“For me, I had been thinking for a very long time now, off and on, about creating some kind of group for candidates that personally I think have the kind of qualities we need,” Iwase told Civil Beat Friday.
But, not even a month after filing their PAC’s first financial disclosure — they didn’t reporting raising a dime — Iwase and Boersma closed shop.
“It’s not going to happen,” Boersma said Friday. “We are just not going to do it. Going out to try to raise money is so much work. We should have started months ago.”
Hawaii’s Future may have no future, but 16 other super PACS — independent expenditure committees, in elections vernacular — have also been established since late 2011.
They include groups dedicated to advancing environmental interests (Sierra Club Hawaii PAC), opposing rail on Oahu (SaveOurHonolulu.com), helping labor unions (AiKea) and preserving reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood of Hawaii Action Network).
Most of Hawaii’s Super PACs have raised and spent very little money — so far. But a few have spent bucket loads and have probably influenced electoral outcomes.
Workers for a Better Hawaii, for example, spent nearly $700,000 in the two months leading up to the 2012 general election. The money, spent on advertising, concentrated on the Honolulu mayoral contest between Ben Cayetano and Kirk Caldwell; most of the cash came from the pro-rail Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters.
Cayetano, who ran largely on an anti-rail platform, was also politically skewered by Pacific Resource Partnership, an independent expenditure committee connected to the carpenters union that spent $1.3 million on TV ads during the six months leading up to the 2012 primary.
Ads attacking Ben Cayetano in 2012.
The rise of super PACs in Hawaii is an outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which said that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting politically independent expenditures made by corporations, unions and associations.
Hawaii’s super PACS have caught the attention of the Campaign Spending Commission.
“We started seeing this in the last election with PRP,” said the commission’s executive director, Kristin Izumi-Nitao. “People are organizing. The commission is interested and watching.”
The commission’s website lists the super PACs and explains what they can and cannot do:
“Independent expenditures” means an expenditure expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in concert or cooperation with or at the suggestion of the candidate, the candidate committee, a party, or their agents.
As a result of a federal lawsuit entitled Yamada, et al v. Weaver, et al., the Commission is enjoined from enforcing the $1,000 contribution limit as provided in HRS §11-358. Therefore, there is no limit on contributions to non-candidate committees making solely independent expenditures.
Among other things, the Campaign Spending Commission will be checking to ensure that the super PACs don’t give money directly to a candidate or candidate committee, or coordinate spending with them.
The treasurer for DMH Hawaii is Garret Hashimoto, state chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, one of the groups that unsuccessfully opposed Hawaii’s legalization of same-sex marriages.
DMH Hawaii PAC is brand new and has not reported raising any money yet. But Hashimoto told reporter Nick Grube last week that it will likely support state Rep. Richard Fale, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage who has indicated he will challenge state Sen. Clayton Hee, who led the passage of the legislation.
Hashimoto directed Civil Beat to the Defend Marriage Hawaii website, which shows that organizers are already at work identifying who’ll they work to support and defeat.
For instance, a section of the website lists the four state senators who voted against same-sex marriage in November — “The Fantastic 4 Who Stood With the People of Hawaii.” It identifies as well the senators who voted for marriage equality — “Pro Same Sex Marriage Senators That Ignored the Voice of the People.”
State Rep. Richard Fale, March 4, 2014.
Another section of the website, depicted at top, uses Google Map-like red pins to classify residents deemed sympathetic to the Defend Marriage Hawaii cause.
“We are organizing neighborhood by neighborhood to build a rock solid data base of Support for Pro-Family candidates in the November elections,” the website states.
Hawaii won’t know how influential its super PACs will be until after the primary and general elections, of course, when voters make their choices. But it’s clear that the local political landscape has changed because of Citizens United.
“My personal feeling is the Supreme Court should repeal Citizens United,” Randy Iwase said. “But given that this is the law, this is how we would play it. I have this sort of discomfort level with how the money is being spent. There has been a lot of negative stuff. There have been distortions of people’s records, editing of film clips, and that is dirty and pilau (rotten).”
But Iwase said attacking a candidate’s record is fundamental part of elections.
“Jim and I resolved that had we proceeded, we would have done things based on issues and facts,” he said. “The political record of any candidate, no matter who they are, that’s fair game.”
Contact Chad Blair via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.
Civil Beat is tracking the money flowing to candidates and campaigns for local, state and federal elections in a variety of ways. Our series, “Cashing In,” focuses on campaign finance reports filed with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission and other political spending. We’re looking at who’s giving, who’s getting and how the money is being spent.