- Special Projects
Developers, unions, prominent attorneys and Realtors have thrown tens of thousands of dollars into the Honolulu City Council races this year, in which Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga is challenged by Sam Aiona for the District 6 seat and Tommy Waters and Trevor Ozawa are competing in District 4.
Waters, a former state representative, has brought in the most cash — $165,045 — this election cycle, according to filings this week with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission that go through Oct. 20. Ozawa wasn’t far behind, bringing in $135,800.
Fukunaga contributions totaling $121,877, in addition to about $40,000 from family members and her own funds. Aiona’s take pales in comparison at $28,944.
Aiona told Civil Beat that his lagging fundraising is a good thing because it shows that he isn’t beholden to special interests.
City Council races don’t attract the hefty contributions that state and national races do. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, for instance, collected $4.9 million during the primary before losing to David Ige, who has raised about $1.9 million this campaign cycle.
Still, the donations reflect many of the interests that typically seek influence over the council, developers in particular.
Jason Grosfeld, an executive at Pacrep, a Los Angeles-based developer, was one of the biggest donors this election cycle. He and his wife donated a total of $14,000 to Fukunaga, Waters and Ozawa.
The developer has a history of donating heavily to Hawaii political candidates. Pacrep developers and their family members donated more than $100,000 to Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Honolulu City Council members’ political campaigns in recent years while seeking the city’s permission to exceed a Waikiki height limit and gain other concessions for their controversial Kuhio Avenue hotel-condominium project.
A Washington, D.C., political action committee, ARDA ROC-PAC, which advocates for timeshare owners, donated $500 each to Ozawa and Waters and $2,182 to Fukunaga.
The vast majority of donations, however, are from local individuals, firms and unions.
Waters has received the bulk of union endorsements, including support from police, firefighters, plumbers, longshoremen and hotel workers. Ozawa has seized on those endorsements to paint himself as the more independent candidate not beholden to special interests.
But Ozawa has actually received more union money than Waters this election cycle — Ozawa has brought in $21,550 to Waters’ $14,800.
Ozawa has received $4,000, the maximum contribution allowed, from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Fund, the funding arm of Pacific Resource Partnership. PRP has recently come under scrutiny by the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission for its efforts to derail former Gov. Ben Cayetano in his 2012 bid to be Honolulu mayor.
Ozawa has also received thousands in contributions from unions and political action committees representing masons, ironworkers and builders.
Waters has received donations from unions representing painters, plumbers, police, firefighters, government workers, ironworkers and longshoremen.
Other notable donations to Waters include $500 from Mayor Kirk Caldwell and $250 from Lex Smith, Caldwell’s campaign manager.
Both Ozawa and Waters have also received money from officials at RM Towill, one of the state’s major construction management and engineering firms, and the Hawaii Association of Realtors.
Fukunaga has also received substantial sums from the unions, including $2,000 from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Fund and unions representing government workers, firefighters, plumbers and electricians.
She has also received substantial donations from the hotel and timeshare industry, including Aston Hotels & Resorts, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Outrigger Hotels Hawaii and Starwood Vacation Ownership and The Imperial Hawaii Vacation Club.
Aikea UNITE HERE, a super PAC created by Local 5, a union representing hotel workers, has criticized Fukunaga’s relationship to the hotel industry this election season. Local 5 was angered when Fukunaga deferred a union-backed bill earlier this year that would stymy the conversion of hotels to condominiums, a source of job loss for hotel workers.
Local 5 reacted by running a candidate of its own, Joli Tokusato, against Fukunaga in the August primary.
Tokusato lost in the primary, but this week’s campaign filings reveal the hefty funds that Aikea spent in its attempts to defeat Fukunaga. Aikea spent $318,580 in support of Tokusato’s campaign, including about $126,000 to pay canvassers and about $70,000 on mailers, records show.
Aikea made a final push against Fukunaga this week, criticizing her for the donations she has received from developers and hotels. Its ads suggest that Fukunaga would place “big money interests” over that of the people.
Fukunaga told Civil Beat that she was “flabbergasted” by the amount spent by Aikea. “That is certainly a lot more than I have come close to spending,” she said.
Tokusato lost to Fukunaga in the primary, with 18 percent to 42.7 percent, respectively, But the aggressive campaign against Fukunaga could give Aiona a bump on Nov. 4.
A former executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party, Aiona has received donations from a number of conservative groups and individuals, though the City Council race is non-partisan.
Quentin Kawananakoa, a Republican politician, descendent of Hawaiian royalty and heir to the James Campbell Estate, gave Aiona $250. Sue Djou, the mother of Republican congressional candidate Charles Djou, gave Ainoa $200. The Kahua Group, a political consultancy organization that tends to support conservative candidates, contributed $258.67.
Aiona has also received contributions from Realtors Political Action Committee Hawaii and Democratic Sen. Donna Kim.