For a company that insists it plans to mostly stay out of Hawaii politics, Strategies 360 has been involved in several island campaigns this year.

Shortly after ramping up its Hawaii operations by hiring some high-profile public officials, the Seattle-based public affairs and strategic communications firm was enlisted by a super PAC, the teachers union and a candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

In January, then-Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui resigned to go to work for Strategies 360. Less than six months later, the head of the Hawaii Department of Education’s communications office, Donalyn Dela Cruz, left to join the team, which includes several local political players with ties to the construction industry.

In all, Stategies 360 has been paid more than $40,000 this year for its work on behalf of HSTA for Schools Our Keiki Deserve, a political action committee funded by the teachers union that was pushing for an education tax on investment properties, the One Ohana PAC, funded by a resort group, and Esther Kiaaina’s campaign for an OHA seat.

Stategies 360 CEO and co-founder Ron Dotzauer says the firm’s Hawaii office still doesn’t plan to get too involved in local politics. Courtesy: S360

That’s not a big chunk of the overall financing behind ballot issues and races for elected office this year, but more than might have been expected.

Strategies 360 opened under the leadership of John White, who came over from Pacific Resource Partnership, which represents a consortium of contractors and unionized carpenters that spent more than $4 million in the last three elections through super PACs.

Ron Dotzauer, Strategies 360’s co-founder and CEO, said Monday that the company still has no plans to become heavily involved in helping candidates win seats or helping groups pass constitutional amendments in Hawaii, or in any of the 12 western states where it has offices.

“You might still see some sprinkling of it, from time to time,” he said. “But that has to do with their personal relationships. It is not part of our overall business plan.”

Strategies 360’s main focus is on its “pure corporate” clients, Dotzauer said, without naming them. He said the firm will be more active in helping those clients get bills through the Legislature, for instance.

“You’ll see us there,” he said, referring to the next legislative session that starts in January.

Donalyn Dela Cruz Director of Communications and Community affairs at the State Dept of Education with DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.
Donalyn Dela Cruz, left, joined Strategies 360 after serving as communications director at the state Department of Education, now led by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Dela Cruz is friends with Kiaaina, Dotzauer said, and Tsutsui is from Maui, where the One Ohana PAC was active in a dozen local races.

Dela Cruz is campaign chair for Kiaaina in her race for the Oahu seat on OHA’s Board of Trustees. She said Kiaaina approached her after the Aug. 11 primary.

The campaign is challenging from a communications perspective. Few Hawaii voters know much about OHA and even fewer know Kiaaina’s name, despite her long career in state and federal government. And many people don’t know that all Hawaii voters can cast ballots in the race, even though it’s for the Oahu seat.

Kiaaina is running against Kalei Akaka, granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka.

Kiaaina’s latest campaign finance reports, which cover Aug. 12 to Oct. 22, show she paid $20,000 to Strategies 360, also known as S360, for public relations work, a website overhaul and ads on Facebook and other media outlets.

The firm has its own in-house advertising team, along with digital-media specialists — a growing part of the team.

The Kiaaina contracts accounted for the bulk of the political work Strategies 360 has done this year in Hawaii.

HSTA for Schools Our Keiki Deserve paid the firm $13,000 in late September for consulting work. The group was pushing for a proposed constitutional amendment to let the state tax investment properties to help fund public education until the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the ballot question last month.

The One Ohana PAC paid S360 about $6,300 on Oct. 18 for consulting on social and digital media strategy for candidates running for Maui County Council, mayor and a state House seat. The candidates included Mike Victorino, Stacy Crivello, Riki Hokama, Lynn DeCoite, Claire Carroll, Mike Molina, Yuki Lei Sugimura, Kelly King, Alice Lee, Tamara Paltin and Alan Arakawa.

The group, formerly known as the Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee, is chaired by Mark Watford and Elizabeth Estes. It has paid S360 more than $12,000 for ads to run in the days leading up to Tuesday’s election.

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