A Los Angeles real estate magnate along with a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and his Oahu-born wife have pumped $75,000 into the Hawaii Republican Party over the past year, attempting to breathe life into a brand that is suffocating in a state dominated by Democrats.
The three $25,000 donations from the billionaire businesspeople — Majestic Realty Co. President Edward Roski and University of Hawaii alums Fred and Annie Chan, who moved back to Honolulu several years ago — account for the bulk of the state party’s funds, which it uses to host conventions and help candidates.
The only other donation that large came from Honolulu investor Jay Shidler. His net worth was estimated at $700 million in 2013. He kicked in $25,000 in June.
The Hawaii GOP, chaired by Shirlene Ostrov since May 2017, had $81,000 in cash on hand as of July 27 after spending $49,000 during the first seven months of the year, according to its most recent filing with the state Campaign Spending Commission.
That is well above where the party has been in recent elections. The Hawaii GOP had just $10,000 on hand heading into the August 2016 primary after spending $48,000 during the seven months leading up to it. And it had only $19,000 a week before the 2014 primary after spending $25,000 during the same period.
The party did not report giving any money directly to candidates, but it did use the funds to help defray their campaign costs, offer training events and print mailers and booklets. Airfare for Rep. Andria Tupola, the frontrunner in the Republican race for governor, was reimbursed for her to attend party meetings on Maui and the Big Island.
The biggest single expense was $17,591 to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for a full-page ad about the rail project and other issues last September, according to the campaign finance report. The Legislature approved a $2.4 billion financing package that month to bail out the beleaguered Honolulu project by increasing and extending taxes.
From Jan. 1 to July 27, the Republican Party reported raising $64,232. Two individual donations accounted for $50,000 of that amount.
Roski’s July 18 donation of $25,000 was the most recent large cash infusion to the party.
The real estate tycoon, who was awarded the Congressional Medial of Honor last year by President Donald Trump, is worth an estimated $5.5 billion. He helped develop the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the two professional sports teams he partially owns play, the Lakers and the Kings.
The Chans, who donated $50,000 to the party last year, made their fortune in the 1990s developing computer processing chips in the San Francisco Bay area before selling their company and investing in real estate in Hawaii and California.
They bought the famous Kaiser Estate in east Honolulu. They also developed the Moana Pacific condos downtown, which is where they are listed as living now, according to the latest state campaign expense reports.
Before deciding to return to Oahu, the Chans sold a 25,000-square-foot mansion they built in Silicon Valley to a Russian billionaire. Yuri Milner, who invested $200 million in Facebook about 10 years ago, bought their property for $100 million in 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Shidler, who donated $25,000 to the state GOP on June 6, founded an investment group that buys and manages properties nationwide and in Canada. He has also invested in more than 20 companies and has a business college at UH named after him thanks to millions of dollars in donations to his alma mater.
All these major donors to the party are philanthropists as well.
The Hawaii Republican Party is also pulling money from the Republican National Committee, though it isn’t reported in the state campaign finance reports.
The RNC has given the state party about $38,000 since the beginning of 2017, with the biggest single contribution being $17,500 on April 16, according to the Federal Election Commission.
That’s a notable uptick too. In all of 2015 and 2016, the RNC only gave the Hawaii GOP $9,800.
State campaign finance reports show the party has also received funding from Hawaiian Electric Industries, which donated $2,500 in October from a fund that comes from voluntary contributions by the utility company’s employees.
Alexander & Baldwin’s political action committee donated $3,000 and Mark Blackburn, who owns RAPA Corp. in Honolulu, has given $19,571.
Gregory Lussier of Kahului, the branch manager of Mann Mortgage, has given $4,755. And Gary Grimmer, a Honolulu attorney, is providing free legal services valued at $4,916.
Current officeholders donated some of their campaign money to the party, including $200 from Rep. Bob McDermott of Ewa Beach and $3,800 from Rep. Gene Ward of Hawaii Kai.
The Democratic Party of Hawaii, by contrast, had $25,131 cash on hand after spending $251,000 from Jan. 1 to July 27. The party raised $268,091 during the same period.
The party’s biggest donors are Friends of Kim Coco ($5,600), Hawaii PAC ($2,750), Tulsi for Hawaii ($3,000), Sen. Josh Green ($2,030), Imanaka Asato LLC ($4,800), SPEC Bank of Hawaii ($2,000), USA Realty Construction Group ($3,000), and $1,000 each from Island Insurance Employees PAC, Alexander & Baldwin Inc. HI PAC, and Mana’Olana Partners Inc. of Los Angeles. Gordon Arakaki of Waipahu gave $1,000 as a state convention sponsorship.
Other sizable donations to the Democratic Party came from Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s and Gov. David Ige’s campaigns for governor, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Lt. Gov. Doug Chin and various unions.
Like the Republicans, the Democratic Party did not make contributions directly to candidates. It mostly spent the money on state and county conventions. It cost $83,000 for the venue and catering at the Hilton Waikoloa Village for the state convention in May.
The Hawaii Republican Party still has a ways to go to match its fundraising prowess when Republican Gov. Linda Lingle was in office for two terms.
Her election in 2002 as the first and only Republican to win the governorship since statehood in 1959 brought in two to three times as much funding to the state party, as well as an influx in GOP lawmakers.
Voters elected 22 Republicans to the Legislature that year. Those numbers plummeted to eight by the time Lingle left office in 2010.
Ostrov said in an email Tuesday that the party is targeting certain races this year to try to regain seats. She did not identify which ones, but former GOP lawmakers have noted the possibility for a few wins in districts representing Mililani, Nanakuli and parts of Oahu’s North Shore.
Ostrov said the party offered a training program for candidates for the first time in 20 years.
Political analysts, however, expect Democrats to pick up one seat in the House, which would drop the number of GOP seats to four in the 51-member chamber. They don’t see any vulnerable seats this election in the 25-member Senate, which has no Republican members, and expect Democrats to easily retain the governorship and congressional seats.
Sailau Timoteo, a Republican running to fill Tupola’s open House seat, was deemed ineligible Friday by the state Elections Office because she is not a U.S. citizen. She immigrated from American Samoa. The Republican Party and Timoteo are fighting the decision on technical grounds.
Republican candidates are only running in 23 of the 64 state legislative races.
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