The group, which registered April 30 with the Campaign Spending Commission, has not identified what races it may try to influence but if, as PRP has done in the past, it taps the resources of the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, it would be a formidable political player. PRP represents the carpenters council along with 240 contractors.
The carpenters council bills itself as the “the largest construction union in the state,” representing some 7,000 workers. It had $45 million cash on hand as of Dec. 31, U.S. Department of Labor reports show.
The union has not been shy about spending heavily in past political contests. It put more than $4 million into the past three elections by funneling money through its Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund into the Pacific Resource Partnership PAC in 2012 and the renamed Forward Progress PAC in 2014 and 2016. Both PACs have since been terminated.
While the primary is still three months away, prior campaign donations and early endorsements by the carpenters union may offer clues about the new super PAC’s direction.
The union donated $6,000 to Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s campaign for governor in September and endorsed her in February. She is battling Gov. David Ige in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary and a well-funded super PAC could make a difference in the race.
“Not only are we endorsing her candidacy to be Hawaii’s next governor, the Hawaii Carpenters Union strongly supports her platform for addressing our state’s affordable housing crisis with a sense of urgency,” Ron Taketa, the union’s executive secretary and treasurer, said in a statement after the announcement.
Magno could not be reached for comment for this story, nor could Steven Mele, a D.C.-based consultant who’s listed as the super PAC’s custodian of books and accounts. Mele’s assistant at Mele, Brengarth & Associates referred the press inquiry to the phone number listed on the super PAC’s registration form. Messages left with that number were not returned.
It’s only the second super PAC to form this year in Hawaii. The other is Women Against Domestic Violence Hawaii, which launched a website in March attacking gubernatorial candidate Clayton Hee.
Voters won’t know how much money the super PACs are spending or where they are getting their money until their next campaign finance reports are due, Aug. 1. That leaves the public in the dark until two weeks before the primary election.
PRP was behind the negative advertising that helped defeat former Gov. Ben Cayetano in his 2012 bid to become Honolulu mayor as the anti-rail candidate. Kirk Caldwell, a staunch supporter of the now $8.2 billion transit project to link Kapolei with Ala Moana Center, won that election and was re-elected with the carpenters’ support in 2016.
Cayetano filed a defamation lawsuit that resulted in PRP, headed by John White at the time, having to take out a half-page newspaper ad to apologize and give $125,000 to charities to settle the case in 2014.
White left PRP in 2016 to join Strategies 360, a mainland political consulting firm that he helped establish a branch of in the Aloha State. Shan Tsutsui quit his job as lieutenant governor under Ige in January to join the group; he has since announced his support for Hanabusa.
Kyle Chock was listed as PRP’s interim executive director, according to his 2017 lobbyist disclosure statement with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. A message seeking comment from PRP was not returned.
Aside from Hanabusa, the carpenters union donated thousands of dollars last year to the campaigns of Caldwell and Honolulu City Council members Ron Menor, Brandon Elefante, Ikaika Anderson, Trevor Ozawa, Joey Manahan and Kymberly Pine; Senate President Ron Kouchi and Sens. Michelle Kidani, Lorraine Inouye, Donna Kim, Gil Keith-Agaran and Kai Kahele; and Hawaii House candidate Tracy Arakaki, who lost a 2016 bid for an Aiea seat by 37 votes.
Ige, who has consistently supported the rail project and signed bills to ensure its funding continues, has not received money from the carpenters union for this election. His administration has connections to the group though.
In February, two weeks before the union endorsed Hanabusa, he appointed Leonard Hoshijo to head the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Hoshijo had worked as education and policy director for the carpenters council.
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