One name more than any other sticks out on Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro’s campaign finance reports.
Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.
And it’s not just because Kealoha is the appointed leader of the 20th-largest police department in the country. It’s because the chief, who is currently under a federal corruption investigation, almost never makes campaign contributions.
In fact, his $500 donation to Kaneshiro is the only record going back to Nov. 8, 2006, of the chief making a political contribution to a candidate. State records show that Kealoha donated to Kaneshiro’s re-election campaign on Oct. 19, 2015.
The contribution came the same month Civil Beat reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, of San Diego, had been assigned as the special prosecutor to investigate the chief and his wife, Katherine, for criminal wrongdoing stemming from allegations they had framed her uncle for the theft of their mailbox.
Katherine Kealoha works for Kaneshiro as the top supervisor in the career criminal division, which prosecutes cases involving repeat offenders and individuals who commit crimes while free on probation or parole.
Kaneshiro has refused to ask her to step aside during the investigation. The prosecutor has been an ardent supporter of her, going so far as to publicly lambaste the ongoing grand jury proceedings being conducted by Wheat as a “circus.”
Katherine Kealoha has also been a donor to her boss’s campaign. According to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, she has given Kaneshiro $1,250 for his 2016 campaign. She also contributed $1,045 to his prior elections.
It’s not uncommon for employees to donate to their boss. For instance, campaign spending records show that Janice Futa, who handles some of the highest-profile cases in the prosecuting attorney’s office, gave Kaneshiro $700 for his re-election bid.
Other candidates Katherine Kealoha has contributed to since Nov. 8, 2006, include Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, Republican gubernatorial candidate James “Duke” Aiona and Franklin “Don” Pacarro Jr., who ran against Kaneshiro in a 2010 special election to replace Peter Carlisle, who had left office to run for mayor.
The chief declined to comment, as did Kaneshiro. Katherine Kealoha did not respond to a request for comment.
Anosh Yaqoob, who is running against Kaneshiro, described the Kealohas’ contributions as “an obvious impropriety,” and said that if he were in the same position he would not have accepted their donations. Yaqoob added that he has vowed not to accept any campaign contributions.
He said he’s turned down some offers for financial support. Yaqoob’s campaign spending reports show no record of him receiving any contributions.
“I’m not going to be beholden to anybody,” Yaqoob said. “I’m not accepting endorsements and I’m not accepting contributions. I don’t want people to feel like I owe them something.”
The race for prosecuting attorney is not a big money affair when compared to other races, such as for Honolulu mayor, which can see millions of dollars spent by candidates and outside interest groups seeking to influence the results.
Kaneshiro reported raising nearly $144,000 since he was last elected to office in 2012, according to state campaign spending reports that run through Oct. 24. A lot of that money comes through small donations, ranging from $10 to $1,000.
But Kaneshiro also has some major donor support from top executives working for Mitsunaga & Associates, a politically influential architectural firm that’s known for funneling campaign cash into candidate coffers. Campaign spending data shows that Mitsunaga & Associate employees, including company President Dennis Mitsunaga, have given Kaneshiro’s campaign thousands of dollars over the years.
Other big contributors to Kaneshiro’s re-election campaign include the Ironworkers Local 625 and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, both of which are construction unions.
Records show Kaneshiro has spent almost $82,000 on his re-election campaign, despite the fact that he’s considered a shoo-in against Yaqoob, a local defense attorney with limited experience and no history as a prosecutor.
Kaneshiro’s largest expenses, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, were for advertising, mostly with Oahu Publications, which owns MidWeek and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He also listed nearly $500 in advertising expenses for what he described in his campaign spending reports as “Flyers for Catholic Charities Candidates.”