Special interest groups and unions representing police, plumbers, teachers, carpenters and other workers have pumped more than $1.4 million into Hawaii campaigns this year.
That accounts for about a quarter of the more than $4 million in total campaign donations that have gone to the hundreds of candidates running for election.
And super PACs — several of which have union backing — have spent almost $400,000 on advertising that supports or opposes candidates ahead of the Aug. 8 primary.
PAC contributions between January and July of this year are less than the same time period in 2018, when PACs gave over $2.3 million to campaigns. Though the coronavirus has shaken up much of the state and forced candidates to campaign in new ways, the tie between the unions and politicians is largely the same.
Civil Beat looked at the state filings for more than 100 political action committees that have made contributions to candidates this year. Of the top 10, which have contributed over $630,000 to candidate campaigns, all but one are union PACs.
The top spender was the Hawaii Laborers’ Political Action Committee, the Local 368 Hawaii, which gave over $100,000 to campaigns since Jan. 1.
The union represents over 4,000 workers, many of whom are in the construction industry. Hawaii’s tourism industry took a nosedive from the pandemic, and the local economy has limped along with construction helping to prop it up.
A union newsletter heralded the Legislature’s approval of a plan to invest more than $5 billion in capital improvement projects.
“What does this mean? It means that for the foreseeable future, Hawaii’s economic recovery will ride on the backs of the construction industry, our members,” Ryan Kobayashi, the union’s lobbyist, wrote in the newsletter.
The police union was also a prolific donor this year. The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers gave $77,400 to candidates, including a number of incumbents in the Legislature.
It’s almost twice as much as the union contributed during the same period during the 2018 elections.
SHOPO spent the last two legislative sessions fighting House Bill 285, which would open police disciplinary records to the public. The bill ultimately passed the Legislature and now sits on Gov. David Ige’s desk.
Of the 51 members in the House, 14 voted “no” on the bill. SHOPO donated to 11 of those legislators’ campaigns. They include Reps. Lynn Decoite, Sharon Har, Troy Hashimoto, Daniel Holt, Sam Kong, Bob McDermott, Val Okimoto, Sean Quinlan, Chris Todd, Jimmy Tokioka and Gene Ward who received between $1,850 and $2,000 from the union.
Sen. Kurt Fevella, who voted “no” on HB 285, also got $4,000 from SHOPO. However, the other senators who cast “no” votes including Sens. Kai Kahele, Lorraine Inouye and Michelle Kidani did not get any money.
The police union has also made contributions to county candidates, including Honolulu mayoral candidate Rick Blangiardi, whom SHOPO endorsed.
Two of Hawaii’s public worker unions that opposed proposed pay cuts and whose members got a combined $150 million in pay raises were also big spenders this year.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association gave a combined $104,900 to candidates this year.
In April, both unions opposed 20% pay cuts proposed by Ige to help balance the state budget. And in June, lawmakers, who were scrambling to fill a $1 billion budget hole, gave their thumbs up to the previously negotiated pay raises.
Candidates Get Boost From Super PACs
The carpenters union, which represents contractors in Hawaii’s building industry, contributed over $73,000 to campaigns through two of its PACs.
But as in past elections, the building industry spent far more on candidate campaigns via advertising funded by their super PAC called Be Change Now, funded by Pacific Resource Partnership.
The group dumped over $196,000 into the campaigns of Alan Texeira, who is running for the Honolulu City Council seat representing Windward Oahu, and Jane Clement, a candidate for Hawaii County Council’s District 7 representing parts of Kona.
The union has yet to take sides in the Honolulu mayor’s race. Unless a candidate gets more than half the vote in the primary, the top two advance to the November general.
The plumbers union, through its super PAC HiVISION 2020, spent $122,000 on ad buys supporting Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya and Esther Kia‘aina, a candidate for City Council District 3.
Meanwhile, Aloha Aina Oiaio spent $49,642 running attack ads on Amemiya and mayoral candidate Mufi Hanneman.
Its top donor was its chairperson. Lokahi Cuban, who is a supporter of Colleen Hanabusa for mayor, gave the PAC $9,000. Other donors include Matson engineer Dominic Matthers ($6,000) as well as Myles Kawakami ($4,000) and Gerald Mito ($3,000), both of whom are Teamster movie drivers.
Others who donated between $4,000 and $5,000 include Jimmy Up Home Improvement, Island Wide Flooring Solutions, AlohaCare financial operations specialist Hokulani Tehada, Zelinsky Co. safety officer Travis McKay, and Dexter and Shozo Sato of Kaneohe.
Planned Parenthood spent over $7,000 on mailers for Sonny Ganaden, a candidate for the House district representing Kalihi.
The Center for Food Safety, a leader in the anti-GMO movement, is putting money towards supporting Eileen Ohara, Shannon Matson and Walter Ritte in their runs for seats in the House. The center also put money toward flyers opposing Rep. Richard Onishi’s reelection.
Ritte is also getting a slight advertising boost from the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment, founded by anti-GMO activist Mark Sheehan.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell