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WASHINGTON — Despite poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s no indication U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is ready to give up her presidential ambitions.
The Hawaii congresswoman has already hosted a series of events in South Carolina, Virginia and Maine to try to whip up support for her campaign, which by most accounts is struggling to stay afloat.
Gabbard raised $12.6 million in 2019, but that’s far behind other more viable candidates in the field, including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Even entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the race last week, has pulled in more money than Gabbard.
Despite the long odds, Gabbard’s campaign is continuing to call on her supporters to give the congresswoman more money.
So far she’s already spent millions of dollars, and, if she continues, is primed to spend millions more even if her chance at winning the nomination is extremely slim.
Gabbard’s campaign did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.
Civil Beat took a look at how Gabbard’s campaign has spent its money so far based on available Federal Election Commission records detailing expenditures from Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31. Here’s some of what we found:
Gabbard’s campaign continues to funnel money to a vendor based in Stehekin, Washington, a remote mountain village only accessible by foot, horseback, ferry or float plane.
Kris Robinson and his company, Northwest Digital, were paid nearly $490,000 by Gabbard’s campaign in 2019 for website management, internet advertising and polling.
Outside of Google, Facebook and iHeart Media, that makes Northwest Digital the campaign’s top paid vendor despite the fact Robinson has almost no political experience. Records show Gabbard is the only federal candidate Robinson or his company have worked for.
Like Gabbard, he grew up in the Science of Identity Foundation, a fringe sect of Hare Krishna founded by Chris Butler, a Hawaii-based surfer known for his secrecy, political ambitions and staunch anti-gay views. Former members of the Science of Identity Foundation have likened it to a cult.
Robinson isn’t alone. There are others with ties to Butler and the Science of Identify Foundation who are taking in campaign cash.
Among them is Abraham Williams, Gabbard’s husband, who works as a campaign cinematographer. Records show the campaign paid Williams $3,119.
A Hawaii-based video production company he used to work for, Blue River Productions, which is run by affiliates of the Science of Identity Foundation, received another $158,763 from the campaign.
According to Gabbard’s FEC reports, a man by the name of Geoffrey Silva received more than $8,000 for travel, supplies and fieldwork.
A Des Moines Register article in August 2019 profiled Silva and his wife, Kareen, two volunteers who said they moved from Arizona to Iowa to help with the congresswoman’s presidential campaign.
He told the newspaper he drove five hours from his home to see her speak in Nevada. After the event, Gabbard invited him and his wife to lunch where she pitched them on the idea of relocating to Iowa.
“I go, ‘Well, heck, I’m not doing anything, I’d love to do that,’” Silva said.
The Silvas ended up spending months in the Hawkeye State, working 40 hours a week as campaign volunteers, knocking on doors and planting yard signs.
What Geoffrey Silva didn’t say, at least not in the article, was that he and his wife were closely linked to Butler and his organization.
In fact, business records from Arizona show Kareen Silva was named as the registered agent for the Science of Identity Foundation when it was incorporated there in 1989. Gabbard’s mother, Carol, is listed in those documents as the secretary.
The billboard became a signature of Gabbard’s campaign, mostly because she blanketed some of the earliest voting states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, with her image.
Federal Election Commission records show Gabbard’s campaign spent at least $828,000 with companies specializing in billboards and other outdoor advertising in 2019.
That includes nearly $200,000 with The Driving Media, a company based out of South Carolina, where the primary is scheduled for Feb. 29. Other ways Gabbard tried to get her name — and face — in front of voters was with her campaign van.
According to records, the campaign spent $118,700 in Ohio on a new set of wheels that the congresswoman used to criss-cross parts of the country.
The campaign also purchased swag to hand out at various events. According to FEC records, Gabbard’s campaign paid a California company, WWWB Inc., nearly a quarter-million dollars for merchandise, postage and fees.
Gabbard has used campaign cash to sue people and companies that she believes interfered with her campaign.
In July, she filed a $50 million lawsuit against Google, saying that when the tech giant suspended her advertising account for six hours after the first Democratic debate — something officials there said was due to unusual activity — that it was an attempt to censor her political speech and influence the election.
She filed another $50 million lawsuit last month against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who Gabbard says defamed her when, in a podcast interview, she described the congresswoman as a “favorite of the Russians” and someone who was being groomed by Republicans to run as a third-party candidate.
Gabbard hired the California law firm, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht to represent her in both cases. Records show Gabbard’s campaign paid Pierce Bainbridge $50,000 in July 2019.
Bainbridge describes itself as a “high stakes litigation force” that’s “dedicated to the lost art of combat by trial.” Among its high-profile clients are President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giulianni, and Michael Avenatti, a recently convicted lawyer who also represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against the president.
According to Gabbard’s FEC reports, she spent another $10,000 to hire Pivot Hound Communications, a California-based crisis response and reputation management firm.
California companies, particularly those that specialize in social media and the web, have benefited from Gabbard’s campaign spending.
According to FEC data, the campaign spent more than $3 million in the Golden State. Much of the cash went toward internet advertising with Google and Facebook and Twitter, which no longer allows political advertising on its platform.
She also spent a lot of money in Texas, where she bought more than $815,000 in radio advertising through iHeart Media. Records show she paid another $185,000 to Accelevate 2020, a firm that focuses on petitions and getting presidential candidates on state ballots.
Gabbard’s campaign has spent nearly $60,000 on additional ballot access fees, from Washington, D.C., and Vermont to Alaska and American Samoa, where she was born.
Gabbard’s campaign sent nearly half a million dollars to people and firms in the Aloha State, with much of it going to Blue River Productions.
Her longtime campaign advisor, Erika Tsuji, was also on the payroll, receiving more than $33,000 in 2019. The congresswoman also sent another $33,000 to Cristina Moon of MHodge LLC, which lists an address at a Buddhist temple on Oahu.
Gabbard’s campaign has relied heavily on consultants, which has allowed her to avoid spending her limited resources on payroll taxes and benefits.
The campaign shows it spent roughly $210,000 on staffer salaries plus an additional $118,000 on payroll processing and taxes. Compare that to a candidate such as Yang, who records show paid in excess of $6 million on payroll and taxes.
Gabbard has relied on a wide range of consultants to buoy her bid for the White House, from Rania Batrice, who was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ deputy campaign manager in 2016 to Noland Chambliss, a former chief of staff for Van Jones, who now has his own show on CNN.
Among the other consultants working for Gabbard in 2019 were Henry De Sio, who was the chief operating officer of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Shomik Chaudhuri, whose firm specializes in helping businesses and candidates make inroads with Asian Indians.
Gabbard, who is a practicing Hindu, does particularly well with Indian Americans, more so than other candidates still in the race. According to early 2019 fundraising figures, the congresswoman has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indian Americans during her run for president.
Her campaign even offered donors the chance to win a round-trip ticket to India, a promotion that was advertised with an image of Gabbard draping Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a lei.
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