Nineteen Hawaii super PACs have spent more than $1 million in the current election season to sway voters and influence the state’s political atmosphere, according to the most recent campaign spending commission data.

The top spender so far is Forward Progress, an independent expenditure committee chaired by Pacific Resource Partnership Executive Director John White, who advocates on behalf of unionized carpenters and contractors for more development.

While PRP is a well-known player in Hawaii politics — the group spent more than $3 million on the 2012 Honolulu mayoral race — other super PACs have also emerged in the current election season and have mainly focused on county races.

Cash register

Hawaii’s political action committees have spent more than $5.5 million on local races since the 2012 general election. Super PAC money has accounted for nearly $1 million of that spending.

Flickr: seanmcmenemy

For instance, AiKea UNITE HERE, the political action committee for the Local 5 hotel workers union, has spent more than $183,000 this election cycle supporting Joli Tokusato, who is trying to unseat Honolulu City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga.

Tokusato works in the hotel industry and is affiliated with both AiKea and Local 5.

Other major operators in the current election cycle are two Ocean Resort Villas PACs that each gave $125,000 to another super PAC, the Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee.

That super PAC has spent more than $90,000, mostly in support of Kaala Buenconsejo, who is running for Maui County Council.

PRP’s committee is also supporting Buenconsejo in his bid to oust Elle Cochran, who is known as a smart-growth, pro-environment candidate. In fact, PRP has focused much of its attention on neighbor island county council races, particularly on the Big Island.

Campaign spending data shows the development group, funded entirely by the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program, has spent money on behalf of Ron Gonzales, Tiffany Edwards-Hunt and Maile David-Medeiros.

PRP is also spending big to get Brandon Elefante elected to the Honolulu City Council, where he’s vying for an open seat that’s being vacated by Breene Harimoto.

Super PAC Total Disbursements
Forward Progress $232,306.91
AiKea UNITE HERE $183,059.78
Ocean Resort Villas North PAC $125,000.00
Ocean Resort Villas PAC $125,000.00
Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee $92,491.90
National Association of Realtors Fund $68,969.29
Jobs and Opportunity for Hawaii $48,300.00
Hawaii Family Advocates $37,541.26
Workers for a Better Hawaii $25,884.36
Hawaii Center for Food Safety Action Fund $22,715.79
HIRA Action $15,927.90
Sierra Club Hawaii PAC $14,816.49
Hawaii Building & Construction Trades Council $7,157.90
DMH Super PAC $2,318.00
SaveOurHonolulu.com $2,302.06
Hawaii Solutions $2,069.42
Planned Parenthood of Hawaii Action Network $349.96
MADPAC Hawaii $312.25
Kauai Women’s Caucus $81.20

Independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to help or hurt a candidate’s chances of winning so long as they don’t coordinate between the campaigns.

Direct contributions to candidates are limited to $2,000 to $6,000 depending on the office. One way super PACs avoid these ceilings is through the purchase of advertising on behalf of a particular candidate.

For example, PRP’s Forward Progress PAC reported more than $27,000 in expenses for mailers and postage on July 15 on behalf of Elefante, who’s running against three other candidates in the Aug. 9 primary.

Under current campaign spending law, Elefante would have needed to get $4,000 contributions from at least seven individual donors to make the same purchase or fund that expenditure himself through loans.

Other super PACs that have been active this election cycle include those aligned with religious conservatives (Hawaii Family Advocates), government employee unions (Workers for a Better Hawaii) and the anti-GMO movement (Hawaii Center for Food Safety Action Fund).

Other Special Interests

Many other political action committees have spent money during the current election cycle, which began Nov. 7, 2012 — just after the last general election.

In all, PACs have spent more than $5.5 million on local races since then. This includes the more than $1 million disbursed by super PACs.

By contrast, campaign spending data shows that all of Hawaii’s political candidates have spent around $11 million in the same time frame.

Hawaii Campaign Spending data also shows the PACs have raised nearly $6.8 million from Nov. 7, 2012 to July 25, 2014.

Committees gave about $2.3 million directly to state candidates, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie being the biggest beneficiary.

Abercrombie pulled in about $380,000 from PACs since Nov. 7, 2012, which is three times more than Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, the next highest earner.

It should be noted that more than $222,000 of Abercrombie’s PAC funds came through ActBlue Hawaii, a Democratic fundraising committee that pulls in hundreds of small donations on behalf of candidates.

PAC Name Direct contributions to Candidates
ActBlue Hawaii $344,171.93
Hawaii Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust $105,750.00
Realtors Political Action Committee of Hawaii $102,450.00
Hawaii Ironworkers Stabilization Fund PAC $99,109.86
Hawaii Operating Engineers Industry Stabilization Fund $93,000.00
Hawaii Carpenters Political Action Fund $76,025.00
ILWU Hawaii Political Action Committee $72,800.00
Hawaii Government Employees Association $58,000.00
Committee on Political Education-General Fund & Political Contributions $56,150.00
Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund $55,339.03
Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. HiPAC $44,450.00
Reynolds American Inc. $44,000.00
HSTA Government Relations Committee (Formerly HSTA PAC) $42,050.00
University of Hawaii Professional Assembly – PAC $39,150.00
Hawaii Laborers’ Political Action Committee $36,700.00
Local Union 293 State Legislature Fund $36,000.00
Hawaii Fire Fighters Association $34,100.00
Patsy T. Mink PAC $34,000.00
Bank of Hawaii Corporation Special Political Education Committee – State PAC $33,925.00
Monsanto Company $31,750.00

Many of the top contributors to candidates are PACs associated with the state’s construction trades, such as the ironworkers, operating engineers and carpenters.

Other major donors include Alexander & Baldwin’s political action committee, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the realtors and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

Biotech giant Monsanto and Reynolds American, one of the country’s largest tobacco companies, also have PACs that have fallen into the top 20 candidate donor list since 2012.

Hawaii’s PACs have been spending money in a lot of other areas, including on advertising, direct mail and to conduct surveys and polls.

According to the campaign data, PACs have spent more than $3 million on these expenditures.

The largest category, however, is “Other,” which can include contributions between PACs, political contributions in other states and incidental expenses, ranging from lei and golf tournament fees to T-shirts and banking service charges.

Some of the biggest political spenders include the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the operating engineers and the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

Hawaii’s Republican and Independent Parties are also major spenders, putting tens of thousands of dollars into their political operations.

PAC Name Amount spent
HSTA Government Relations Committee (Formerly HSTA PAC) $339,016.71
UNITE HERE TIP State and Local – Hawaii $280,000.00
Democratic Party of Hawaii $267,261.36
Operating Engineers Local Union 3 Statewide PAC $207,129.72
Pacific Resource Partnership PAC $186,757.24
AiKea UNITE HERE $183,059.78
Ocean Resort Villas North PAC $125,000.00
Ocean Resort Villas PAC $125,000.00
University of Hawaii Professional Assembly – PAC $113,491.96
Hawaii Electricians Market Enhancement Program Political Fund $92,227.39
UNITE HERE Local 5 PAC Fund $91,000.00
Hawaii Republican Party $90,708.74
Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee $75,491.90
National Association of Realtors Fund $68,969.29
Hawaii Independent Party $65,135.27
Realtors Political Action Committee of Hawaii $60,802.00
UnitedHealth Group Incorporated Political Action Committee $60,161.92
Forward Progress $57,776.25
Jobs and Opportunity for Hawaii $48,300.00
IBEW Local 1260 Voluntary Political Fund $46,996.21

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.

• Stay plugged in to campaigns and candidates this election season with Civil Beat’s Hawaii Elections Guide 2014, your source for information on federal, state and local elections.

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