WASHINGTON — Despite a dearth of competition in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Ed Case and state Sen. Kai Kahele, who’s hoping to join him in Congress in 2021, raised nearly $1.4 million in campaign cash between the two of them.

Neither Case nor Kahele face a significant challenger in their respective races for Hawaii’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, and  — given Hawaii’s predilection for electing Democrats — there’s little chance they’ll need that money to stave off a formidable Republican challenger in November.

Federal Election Commission records show Kahele raised nearly $940,000 since Jan. 1, 2019. That’s more than double the $442,000 Case’s campaign raised during the same period.

Sen Chair Kai Kahele asks State Auditor Les Kondo about possible Mauna Kea audit.
Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele has a relatively easy path to Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When Kahele first announced his bid for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which represents rural Oahu and the neighboring islands, he expected to be taking on U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who for many years was considered one of the state’s most popular politicians.

Kahele launched his campaign just one week after Gabbard announced she would be running for president, and was able to harness the backlash both locally and nationally to fill up his war chest. By the time Gabbard announced she would no longer be seeking reelection, Kahele stood alone atop the field as no other major candidates decided to enter the race.

“Kai started the campaign early and did benefit from the ‘Anybody But Tulsi Movement,’” said Alan Tang, a spokesman for the campaign. “That gave him a lot of momentum, not just in the campaign but in the fundraising.”

Case, meanwhile, didn’t need to spend a lot of effort raising money in large part because he doesn’t have a challenger in the Democratic primary scheduled for Aug. 8. While he’ll face token Republican opposition in November, FEC records show no other candidate who has declared for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District has reported raising any money.

“He’s in a comfortable position, but I don’t think he’s taking it for granted,” said Tang, who also works as a spokesman for Case’s campaign. “He has been campaigning as he should be to get his name out there.”

Backed By The Business Community

One thing is clear from Case and Kahele’s donations: they have the backing of Hawaii’s business and political establishment.

Early on, Kahele received the endorsement of three former Hawaii governors. Since then he’s added several other players in island politics to his list of public supporters, including U.S. senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, Case and numerous other members of the Hawaii State Legislature.

The money coming to Kahele’s campaign comes from similarly well-positioned community members and business leaders, both inside and outside of the islands.

The largest share of contributions comes from individual donors giving Kahele more than $200 apiece. Among them are the executives and employees of some of the state’s most influential and lucrative businesses — from real estate developers and investment firms, such as The MacNaughton Group and Tradewinds Capital Group, to the Capitol Consultants of Hawaii lobbying firm that was founded by George “Red” Morris and John Radcliffe.

Kahele’s campaign also received significant contributions from government contractors, such as Pacific Marine & Supply, Navatek and Nan, Inc.

Kahele, too, received significant money from political action committees despite the fact that swearing off PAC funds — particularly from corporations — has been en vogue among Democrats in recent years.

Congressman Ed Case FAA Whistleblower Helicopters Press Conference
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case doesn’t face a single opponent in the Democratic primary. Kuʻu Kauanoe/ Civil Beat/2020

Records show Kahele’s campaign received more than $151,000 from PACs representing some of the major industry players in Hawaii, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Matson and the Bank of Hawaii.

Kahele, who is a Hawaiian Airlines pilot as well as a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, also took in money from a number of pilots associations and veterans groups, including VoteVets and With Honor, an organization that has an associated super PAC that spent more than $180,000 on advertising in support of Kahele’s campaign.

A handful of prominent Washington Democrats also donated to Kahele’s campaign, including Schatz, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman of California, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a revered civil rights leader who died last month.

Election records show that no other Democrats running for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District raised any money to slow Kahele’s path to Congress.

A handful of Republicans, however, have added funds to their campaign coffers, most notably Joseph Akana, a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst who reported raising nearly $27,000. Much of the money appears to come from individuals sharing the same last name.

PAC Support For Case

Case received more than half of his money — nearly $268,000 of the more than $442,000 he raised between Jan. 1, 2019 and July 19, 2020 — through political action committees.

Among his top donors were PACs representing the nation’s sugar and defense industries. He also received tens of thousands of dollars from PACs associated with companies and organizations with stakes in the tourism industry, including Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The PAC for Elon Musk’s SpaceX also donated to Case’s campaign as did a number of committees representing labor and employee organizations, from the American Federation of Teachers and International Union of Operating Engineers to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and National Treasury Employees Union.

Some of his top individual donors were his parents, James and Suzanne, and his sister, also named Suzanne, who is the head of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The congressman also received donations from a number of prominent island real estate investors and attorneys, including Bert Kobayashi and Paul Alston, former colleagues at Outrigger Enterprises where Case was a top executive, and David Lassner, the president of the University of Hawaii.

Case told Civil Beat last year that he won’t accept money from certain groups, such as the National Rifle Association. He also won’t take money from PACs or organizations that don’t disclose their own donors. Since returning to Congress, Case has voted to limit the influence of money in politics and advocated for more transparency and oversight of campaign finances.

“Of course any time you get a contribution from somebody there’s going to be somebody else out there who says you’re beholden to them,” Case said, “but that’s not the way I run my ship.”

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