A super PAC funded by the local plumbers union is giving Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya an advertising boost in the run-up to the Aug. 8 primary election.

The new group, called HiVISION 2020, is among a handful of new independent expenditure committees — Hawaii’s version of super PACs — that formed this year to support candidates or to influence issues like affordable housing, agriculture and abortion rights. They can receive and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose any candidate, so long as they don’t coordinate with the person running for office.

The PAC’s ads are hitting airwaves and mailboxes as voters cast their mail-in ballots, which went out statewide last week. But the public won’t get to see the list of who or what is funding those ads until Wednesday, the deadline for political action committees to disclose their donors.

Plumbers Fitters Union 1109 Bethel Street basement. PACS
The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 675 is funding ads supporting Keith Amemiya’s bid for mayor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Whenever they run ads, the committees are required to disclose the names of their top funders, but not the level of funding. Such is the case with HiVISION 2020, which has spent over $100,000 on print and radio advertisements supporting Amemiya as well as Esther Kia’aina, a candidate for Honolulu City Council District 3.

The radio ads supporting Amemiya are brief. They call him the “right candidate at the right time” before listing some of the economic troubles Oahu faces. The spot ends with a disclosure that Amemiya has not endorsed the ad, and that HiVISION 2020 is funded by the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 675.

The chairperson for the HiVISION 2020 didn’t get back to Civil Beat by Monday afternoon.

Since 2006, the plumbers union, through a separate PAC, has made over $400,000 worth of contributions to various candidates. This year it has donated over $55,000 to various campaigns, according to a review of campaign finance data.

The plumbers union is not the only large, private union funding a super PAC.

Be Change Now, set up in 2018 with money from the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters representing the construction industry, is also wading into several races.

The PAC has spent $78,000 supporting Jane Clement, a candidate for the Hawaii County Council, and another $110,000 supporting Alan Texeira, who is running in the CD3 race against Kia’aina, according to reports filed by Be Change Now.

The carpenters union was behind attack ads on Gov. David Ige during the 2018 election and also propelled Lt. Gov. Josh Green to his current position with over $1 million in support that year. 

In the past, the union has taken particular interest in the Honolulu rail project, and ran ads attacking former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a rail opponent, during the 2012 Honolulu mayor’s race.

Though the rail project will be an issue for Honolulu’s next mayor, Be Change Now, as well as a separate carpenters union PAC, have so far stayed out of the mayoral race. 

Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters Houghtailing St.
The carpenters union has so far stayed out of this year’s mayoral race. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Asked if Be Change Now will support any other candidates, Lee Tokuhara, a spokeswoman for the PAC, responded in an email that there may be more endorsements during the general election, but those decisions haven’t been made yet.

So far in 2020, the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, through its political action committees, has contributed about $20,000 directly to various legislators and city council candidates, including Will Espero, Texeira and Radiant Cordeiro.

While Be Change Now hasn’t run any attack ads this year, one super PAC, Aloha Aina Oiaio, has been running a negative ad campaign that includes false information seeking to disparage Amemiya and Mufi Hannemann. 

Like the other PACs, Aloha Aina Oiaio does not need to disclose a full list of its donors until Wednesday. 

The PAC, which is not affiliated with the Aloha Aina Party according to a party official, has so far spent about $33,000 on television ads and printing services.

Smaller Super PACs

Not all the new super PACs have gone on ad blitzes just yet.

The Planned Parenthood Alliance PAC has not indicated it will run any ads yet. Laurie Field, the chairperson for the PAC and the state director for Planned Parenthood, did not return calls regarding the new political group.

Planned Parenthood is supporting Ed Case and Kai Kahele in their separate bids for Congress. The national organization also plans to pump $45 million into races up and down ballots in the U.S., National Public Radio reported.

Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has a super PAC this year, but it has yet to back any candidates. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Maui’s Green Future Project spent about $2,000 on mailers supporting Simon Russell, a candidate for House District 12 representing parts of south, central and upcountry Maui.

The PAC is affiliated with several groups that pushed for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms in 2014 and also endorsed a slate of progressives that were elected to the Maui County Council in 2018, according to Mark Sheehan, the chairman of Maui’s Green Future Project.

Maui’s Green Future Project is funded by another PAC Sheehan helped to set up called the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment.

Fair Housing Oahu, another new PAC, plans to focus on affordable housing, said its chairman Calvin Pham. The PAC spent just over $3,000 on mailers supporting Adrian Tam’s run for House District 22 against incumbent Rep. Tom Brower.

Campaign filings don’t show the people or organizations that donated to the PAC, but Pham said some include the same unions that have donated to Tam. 

Tam’s most recent campaign spending reports show that he received a $2,000 donation from the Hawaii State Teachers Association and $750 from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Pham also said that the PAC’s treasurer, Larry Smith, contributed some of his own money.

Pham, a consultant who’s lived in Hawaii about a year, said he wanted to create the PAC since he hasn’t seen affordable housing advocates become directly involved with elections. He also said he’s a member of Faith Action, a group of parishioners who often lobby the Legislature on housing issues and the cost of living.

Pham said he’s looking to build a larger coalition before supporting more candidates or taking on the other PACs.

“Hopefully we can be a bit more of a force,” he said.

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