The National Governors Association held its winter meeting in the nation’s capital late last month, and Hawaii’s chief executive was in attendance.

Along with a briefing at the White House, meetings on Capitol Hill and discussions of policy issues such as higher education and veterans care, according to his office, Gov. David Ige also managed to do a little campaign fundraising.

One event was held at 1201 New York Ave. and the other at 1900 K St., both in northwest Washington. The former address appears to be the location of the William T. Golden Center for Science and Engineering, while the latter is on the thoroughfare synonymous with lobbying.

Ige’s campaign declined to tell me who exactly attended the fundraisers, nor exactly where they were held.

Special Advisor to the Governor Elizabeth Kim walks with Governor David Ige on their way to their next appointment. Washington DC. 23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Gov. David Ige and an aide on a previous trip to Washington, D.C., in February 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I also asked the campaign whether it was inappropriate to use a $20,000 business trip for political purposes. First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, Chief of Staff Mike McCartney, Director of Communications Cindy McMillan and Senior Special Assistant Lisa Hiraoka also traveled with the governor.

Here’s what campaign spokeswoman Glenna Wong said in response:

Hawaii has led the nation in many important ways, so it is no surprise that groups advocating for climate change, education, common sense gun safety laws, and organizations representing millions of workers would want to meet with Governor Ige and support his campaign.

These events were over the weekend and after hours. The governor is not the only gubernatorial candidate raising money from out of state, nor is it uncommon for any high-profile candidate from our state to do so. But, let’s be clear, the vast majority of our campaign funds will be from the people of Hawaii like it always has.

Keeping It Local, Mostly

Wong is correct that the “vast majority” of Ige’s money comes locally.

And to be fair, other Hawaii governors have raised campaign cash at mainland fundraisers.

Ige’s predecessor, Neil Abercrombie, held one fundraiser in May 2014 in D.C. and three that month in San Francisco. One of those Bay Area fundraisers appears to have been at a $3.9 million property that was reportedly the home of billionaire Larry Ellison, who is the largest land owner on Lanai. 

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa being sworn in to office, November 2014. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

For her part, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Ige’s primary opponent, raised money in San Francisco in November and has a fundraiser set for March 20 at what looks to be a private home on SE New Jersey Avenue in Washington.

Hanabusa spokesman Keith DeMello declined to answer who attended (or will attend) the fundraisers, or where exactly they are located. He also avoided answering why Hanabusa felt it necessary to raise money for a state race on the mainland.

“Will you be clarifying in your story that Hawaii state law allows for just 30 percent of contributions to come from out of state?” he said via email. “The Hanabusa for Governor campaign is well within that allowable percentage.”

DeMello is correct, although the state law makes an exception to contributions from a candidate’s immediate family.

But here’s my question: If Hawaii is such “a special place,” as we often hear from local politicians, one with cherished “values” that set us apart, why do our politicians need to raise money on the mainland?

I know, I know. It’s the same answer that Willie Sutton gave to the question about why he robbed banks — “because that’s where the money is.”

Money From All Over

The latest donations to the gubernatorial candidates won’t be known until the next financial disclosure statements are due this summer. So, we won’t be able to get a sense of who was writing checks and swiping credit cards at those D.C. and San Francisco shindigs until that time.

Hanabusa hasn’t raised much money so far from mainland interests, either. But some of her contributions have raised particular attention.  

Update: For example, she received $24,000 from Florida-based NextEra Energy, the company that tried to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries for $4.3 billion.

Put anther way, the company that failed to buy HEI gave to the candidate challenging the governor who opposed the deal.

2017 US Capitol Early fall. Constitution Avenue.
Why do Hawaii politicians raise money in D.C.? Because that’s where the money is. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hanabusa also accepted $4,000 from a person in real estate in Baltimore, $3,000 from an attorney in Illinois, $6,000 from a condo developer in Colorado and other mainland donors.

I don’t know why. Maybe they support her promise of “leadership, vision and, most of all, action.”

Ige pulled in mainland dough, too, including $2,000 from a chemical business in California, $2,000 from an energy storage outfit in Santa Barbara, $4,000 from a business consultant in St. Louis and other donors.

Who knows why? Perhaps they are pleased that Ige is, as his campaign proclaims, “an innovator, leading the nation and the world with smart ideas and historic firsts that make a difference to us every day.”

Or maybe they are just trying to buy influence with the next governor of the 50th state.

Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

About the Author