In the past two months, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has given more campaign cash away to help fellow Democrats seeking office than former state Rep. Cam Cavasso — the Republican trying to unseat him Tuesday — has raised in the entire race.
Schatz spent $4 million during his grueling battle to defeat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the August primary, a contest decided by fewer than 1,800 votes.
But since then he’s taken advantage of his huge financial advantage and double-digit lead in the polls to support candidates facing tougher battles on the mainland and in Hawaii.
He gave $200,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Sept. 12 and $30,000 to the Democratic Party of Hawaii on Oct. 2, according to filings this month with the Federal Election Commission. The committee serves as the official party group working to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate, which could shift to a Republican majority this election.
“We want to make sure the Senate stays in Democratic hands,” Schatz said Wednesday, adding that he recently wired another $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as a way of doing his part.
Schatz had $555,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 15 and donations have continued to pour into his campaign. He’s raised over $5.48 million this election, including almost $100,000 in the first two weeks of October.
One out of every five dollars his campaign receives comes from political action committees, groups predominantly located on the mainland that are committed to advancing specific interests. He’s received $1.16 million so far this election cycle from PACs.
Schatz received $2,000 from the Time Warner PAC, $5,000 from the Wal-Mart PAC for Responsible Government, $5,500 from the Anheuser-Busch PAC and many thousands more from PACs representing public worker unions, bankers, airline pilots and others.
In addition to PAC money, there is a list more than 200 pages long of all the individuals who have donated to his campaign since July.
Notable names include Tory Burch foundation president Bari Mattes of New York, who gave him $2,500; Walt Disney business analyst Elliott Rosenbaum of Maryland, who donated $2,500; and Thurston Twigg-Smith, a Honolulu philanthropist who gave $5,200 — the maximum that an individual can donate to a candidate.
Twigg-Smith is the descendant of prominent missionaries who helped overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom. Schatz also received money from Native American groups like the Snoqualmie Tribe in Washington state.
Cavasso had $5,669 on hand as of Sept. 30, according to his most recent FEC report. He’s raised $163,323 to date this election cycle and spent $167,907, which includes payments he’s been making on campaign loans he took out a few years ago. He owes $126,559 in debts and other obligations.
As Schatz goes to campaign events to help Democrats like state Rep. Mark Takai, who is in a dead heat with Republican Charles Djou in the 1st Congressional District race, Cavasso is making YouTube videos to help establish simple name recognition and spread his message.
“I have worked to show the clear contrast between Schatz and Cavasso by whatever means possible: TV, Internet, speeches, etc.,” Cavasso said. “We have petitioned for debates to clearly establish our differences, unfortunately, without success. This race is winnable by a person of my values when the people hear both sides presented clearly.”
This is the third time Cavasso, 64, has sought a seat in the U.S. Senate. He lost by huge margins to longtime Sen. Dan Inouye in 2004 and 2010. Cavasso ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, but lost in the primary to Duke Aiona.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz, then his lieutenant governor, to the Senate after Inouye died in December 2012. The election is to fill the remaining two years left on Inouye’s term.
This is the second time Schatz, 42, has run for a federal seat. After serving eight years in the state House, he decided to run in 2006 against Hanabusa, Mazie Hirono and several other candidates vying for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ed Case — who ran unsuccessfully for Senate that year. Schatz lost by a lot, securing just 7 percent of the vote.
The differences between Cavasso and Schatz are striking.
Schatz, a community organizer before he entered politics, has vowed to continue fighting for increased Social Security benefits, equal pay for equal work and a shift to a “clean energy economy.”
Cavasso, a professional financial advisor, wants to begin weaning Americans off of their Social Security dependency, eliminate the Pono Choices sexual education program in Hawaii schools and scale back federal regulations that increase food, gas and electric prices.
“I believe in one nation, national sovereignty, local control, free enterprise, competition, responsibility, and the right to strong individual and national defense,” Cavasso said.
When it comes to the environment, Schatz believes climate change is real, that it’s caused by humans and is solvable.
“Advancing to a clean energy economy will protect our environment while creating quality, high-paying jobs and lowering energy costs,” Schatz told Civil Beat.
“I’ve partnered with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Henry Waxman on draft legislation to create a framework for putting a price on carbon pollution,” he said, explaining that this would require large polluters to pay for the pollution they emit.
Cavasso described the science on climate change as “not settled.”
“All of us in Hawaii love, respect and cherish our environment. That being said, there are ways to minimize emissions without damaging future economic opportunities and growth,” Cavasso said, noting as examples technology efficiency and utilization of solar, wind and geothermal energy generation.
Both candidates have said they would fight to preserve the money Hawaii receives annually from the federal government. The assistance comes in large part to support the military bases in the isles, which will likely become all the more relevant as the U.S. Armed Forces turn their focus to the Pacific.
Schatz said it’s important to continue the federal investment in Hawaii’s economy not just for defense but also for transportation infrastructure and the university’s research programs.
“We live in interesting times,” Cavasso told Civil Beat. “So interesting in fact that the only chance of preserving Sen. Daniel Inouye’s legacy, and continuing to bring federal prosperity to Hawaii, lies in sending a Republican to Washington to continue Sen. Inouye’s work. I would be humbled and proud to be allowed to contribute to that legacy.”
Inouye, a Democrat who was first elected to the Senate in 1962, wielded considerable power over the federal budget as head of the appropriations committee, steering billions of dollars to Hawaii over the course of his storied career.
Cavasso believes, as some political analysts have predicted, that the Senate will change hands this election and Republicans will control both chambers, making him the more capable candidate to effect change by being part of the majority.
He faces a tough road to D.C. though. Civil Beat’s poll earlier this month put Schatz ahead of Cavasso, 55 percent to 29 percent, with 16 percent undecided.
Schatz described the Senate election as a “momentous occasion.” He said it’s important for Hawaii to stay together as an all-Democratic delegation to maintain continuity and an ability to work as a team.