Be Change Now, a super PAC funded by Hawaii’s largest construction union, is dumping $242,000 into the crowded race for lieutenant governor to help state Sen. Josh Green pull away from the pack, according to documents recently filed with the Campaign Spending Commission.
That’s on top of nearly $254,000 that Green plans to spend on TV ads that he’s buying with his own campaign money. They’re slated to run on four stations from July 12 till the Aug. 11 primary election.
That gives him a significant advertising edge over state Sen. Jill Tokuda, who signed a contract last week with Greenstripe Media to spend $300,000 on ads. The air dates have not been determined.
No other candidates in the LG race or other super PACs had filed statements of information for electioneering communications with the commission as of Wednesday. State law requires these forms to be submitted if candidates spend a cumulative total of $2,000 on ads in the 2018 race or has ads scheduled to run within 30 days of the primary.
Be Change Now, formerly known as All Hawaii Stand Together, signed a contract with Targeted Platform Media, based in Maryland, on June 7 for $240,512 and a contract with Washington, D.C.-based Putnam Partners on May 21 for $1,652 for ads to run between June 8 and the primary Aug. 11.
Joshua Magno of Pacific Resource Partnership authorized the expenditure, according to the report. He’s the treasurer and chair of the super PAC, which can spend unlimited amounts trying to sway voters but is barred by law from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.
The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents some 7,000 workers, was the only contributor identified. The pro-rail union has put more than $4 million from its Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund into the past three elections via other super PACs.
The council had $45 million cash on hand as of Dec. 31, U.S. Department of Labor reports show.
Messages left for Magno and the union have not been returned.
Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center, said that while the union is only taking out ads in favor of Green, in reality it may also be punishing Tokuda for her previous stances on rail.
Tokuda was ousted from her position as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2017 after she took a hardline stance of not wanting to extend the general excise tax surcharge to cover the over-budget Honolulu rail project, now estimated to cost $8.2 billion.
The Legislature went on to extend the GET surcharge and raise the state hotel tax to bring in an extra $2.4 billions to construct the 20-mile rail line from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
“That makes them formidable players,” Moore said. “Part of this is symbolism. It demonstrates your power in the state.”
Tokuda couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Jadine Nielsen, her campaign co-chair, said in a statement that the campaign has faith the voters will see past the big money being spent.
“Jill is focused on representing the interests of Hawaii’s working families,” Nielsen said. “We trust the voters of Hawaii won’t be swayed by special interests or ‘super PACs’ and will instead support a candidate like Jill because like so many here in the islands, she too has had to struggle to succeed from working class roots.”
Moore said it is interesting that the carpenters union would devote so much money to electing someone to a job that has so little power. But he said that also speaks to the LG position having often served as a stepping stone to higher office.
Three past Hawaii governors and the state’s two sitting U.S. senators served as lieutenant governors. And the current LG, who took over in January, is running for Congress this election.
And the money matters. The candidates have little name recognition outside the districts they have represented so they spend their campaign money to boost that.
Former Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who quit in January to work for a political consulting firm, created a “brilliant” ad to help win his election in 2014, Moore said. The ads were literally just about how to pronounce his name.
“There was absolutely no content,” Moore said. “You might as well have been selling breakfast cereal.”
It’s the same situation this election between Green, Tokuda, former state Sen. Will Espero, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and former Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto.
“This isn’t really an ideologically charged race,” Moore said. “Part of this is going to come down to who’s name did you hear the most on television or radio.”
Civil Beat left messages seeking comment with the candidates’ campaigns Wednesday.
It’s unknown how much money the candidates have raised themselves this year and what all they are spending it on because the next round of campaign finance reports isn’t due until July 12. That will cover the period of Jan. 1 to June 30.
Their last campaign finance reports covered the last six months of 2017. Green had $536,495 campaign cash on hand as of Jan. 1; Tokuda had $403,495; Iwamoto had $83,904; Espero had $65,580; and Carvalho had $12,296.
They’ve all been holding campaign fundraisers this year though, with Green leading with 11 as of Wednesday, Carvalho with seven, Iwamoto and Tokuda with five apiece and Espero with two.
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