- Special Projects
WASHINGTON — In the last few months of her presidential campaign, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard raised nearly $2.5 million, dropped more than $20,000 on private jets and sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to friends and family, some of whom have been paid handsomely to support her ambitions.
She also spent millions more on advertising and marketing consultants, money that did little to breathe life into her longshot bid for the Democratic nomination.
Gabbard quit the race on March 19 after failing to gain more than 1% support in most state primaries and only winning two delegates in American Samoa, her birthplace. She came in second there to former New York City mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg.
Based on Gabbard’s latest campaign finance reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, over the course of the campaign the congresswoman raised about $15 million between Jan. 1, 2019 and March 31 and spent just over $14 million.
Those reports show she now has more than $640,000 left over, money that the FEC says can go to pay off her debts, refund her contributors, donate to charity, give to other candidates and causes, or transfer back into her congressional bank account.
What she plans to do with that money, however, is a matter of wait and see, although the congresswoman has repeatedly said she has no intention of running for re-election in Hawaii.
Neither Gabbard’s presidential nor congressional campaigns responded to Civil Beat’s requests for comment.
From Jan. 2 to March 31, Gabbard spent most of her money on advertising, both online and through more traditional routes, such as television and radio. The congresswoman also pumped large sums into billboards, particularly in the early primary states.
Among her top paid consultants and vendors in the first quarter of 2020 were Diotima Strategies LLC, Erin McCallum, Northwest Digital and Blue River Productions.
Diotima Strategies is a Florida-based communications company headed by Torund Bryhn, whose bio says she was educated in strategic communications with a focus in crisis communications.
McCallum, meanwhile, is an independent digital communications consultant who used to work for Revolution Messaging, a well-known Washington, D.C.-based company that made its name working for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Both Northwest Digital and Blue River Productions are closely tied to Gabbard through the Science of Identity Foundation, a fringe sect of Hare Krishna founded by Hawaii-resident Chris Butler. The Science of Identity Foundation came to prominence in Hawaii politics in the 1970s when a number of its members ran for local, state and federal office.
Northwest Digital is based in Stehekin, Washington, a remote mountain village that’s only accessible via foot, boat, horse and float plane.
Gabbard’s campaign has paid Northwest Digital and its owner, Kris Robinson, a Science of Identity Foundation affiliate, more than $560,000 dollars for website management, digital advertising and polling, although there’s no record of Robinson or his company ever doing that type of work for any other federal candidate.
Gabbard’s latest FEC reports show she still owes Northwest Digital more than $93,000 for polling services.
Blue River Productions, which did video production for Gabbard’s campaign, is also run by those tied to the Science of Identity Foundation. Campaign spending reports show Gabbard’s campaign paid the company more than $200,000 since Jan. 1, 2019.
The congresswoman’s husband, Abraham Williams, used to work for Blue River Productions and separately has received thousands of dollars through her campaign working as a cinematographer.
His mother, Anya Anthony, who’s also linked to Butler and his Science of Identity Foundation, has also received thousands of dollars in campaign funds. In addition to the campaign, Anthony works in Gabbard’s congressional office as a district scheduler.
There are few revelations in Gabbard’s latest campaign filings about her political future.
Records show she transferred about $26,000 from her presidential campaign to her congressional account, money that appears to have been spent with Perkins Coie, a law firm headquartered in Seattle that represents the Democratic National Committee.
State Sen. Kai Kahele is running to replace Gabbard in Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. So far, he’s the only major candidate to report raising any money for the race.
According to campaign spending reports filed last week, Kahele has nearly $500,000 in his campaign bank account.
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is also up for reelection in 2020, although he has yet to draw a serious challenger in either the primary or general election. Case so far has raised more than $380,000 for his reelection campaign, and has nearly $340,000 in cash on hand.
Neither of Hawaii’s senators, Brian Schatz or Mazie Hirono are up for reelection in 2020. Schatz, who is next on the ballot in 2022, has more than $3 million saved for his campaign.
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