Special interest groups including labor unions and industry associations have spent more than $500,000 in the last two months donating to candidate campaigns ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

Meanwhile Super PACs have spent over $400,000 on advertising meant to sway voters, particularly in Maui County.

The new finance reports show fewer political action committees donated less money to candidates between Aug. 9 and Sept. 26 than in the first seven months of 2020. A total of 62 PACs representing labor unions, law firms, medical associations and industries donated $544,704.

That’s compared to the $1.4 million more than 100 PACs reported spending just before the Aug. 8 primary election.

Honolulu Hale Voter Service Center.
Labor unions and industry associations are still donating money to dozens of candidates ahead of the general election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Thursday marked the first time candidates and political action committees were required to file finance reports this far out from the Nov. 3 election. That’s because of a 2019 law that added reporting dates of April 30 and Oct. 1 in each general election year.

In the past, the public and media wouldn’t know who is backing candidate campaigns until 10 days before the election.

While the new reports give the public an early glimpse into what interests may be backing a campaign, they may not provide a full picture of how much financial support candidates are getting.

The new reports released late Thursday only show what money was spent and donated up to Sept. 26. Ballots are expected to arrive between Monday and Thursday, and election officials are asking that they be returned by Oct. 27.

Campaign finance reports covering the period that ballots are in voters’ hands don’t need to be filed until Oct. 26.

The United Public Workers union topped the list of donors with $51,000 in contributions made to more than 50 candidates running for county councils and the Legislature. The union had been active in calling for the ouster of former Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, who retired this week.

Second on the list is the Ward Management and Development Co. LLC, a local arm of the Howard Hughes Corp. The company made donations between $2,000 and $4,000 to 14 candidates including Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki. 

The group also made a $6,000 donation to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s 2022 campaign for governor.

Park Hotels & Resorts, a real estate investment trust that owns the Hilton Hawaiian Village, donated a total of $16,000 to legislators including Kouchi, Saiki, Reps. Sylvia Luke and Richard Onishi and Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, who represents Waikiki. 

It also donated $2,000 to Councilman Joey Manahan, who has formed a committee to potentially run for lieutenant governor in 2022.

The rest of the Top 10 is rounded out by the electrical workers union, the carpenters union, the longshore and warehouse union, the operating engineers union, the plumbers union and the masons union.

Notably at the top of the list are the carpenters and plumbers unions. The Hawaii Carpenters Political Action Fund spent $36,000 on donations to 18 candidates, including a $4,000 donation to Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Rick Blangiardi. 

A Super PAC funded by union carpenters and the contractors who hire them, Be Change Now, has also spent over $200,000 on ads supporting Blangiardi.

The plumbers union donated $22,700 to nine candidates running for county offices and the Legislature. HiVISION 2020, the plumbers union Super PAC, spent about $21,000 on radio ads supporting Keith Amemiya, Blangiardi’s opponent in the Honolulu mayor’s race.

Super PACs like Be Change Now and HiVISION 2020 have spent $416,000 on ads supporting various candidates.

Hui O Maui Citizens For Change, a mysterious group spending big to influence the Maui County Council races, reported spending just $29,000 on ads supporting a slate of candidates in the last filing period.

However, previously filed electioneering reports show that the group spent over $110,000 on radio, web and mailed advertisements for a slate of conservative-leaning candidates. 

The PAC reported a $100,000 contribution from Hui O Maui, a nonprofit whose members are largely unknown. 

The National Association of Realtors Fund is also getting involved in the Maui council races. It spent $60,000 on online ads supporting Stacy Crivello, a Molokai candidate who is running against incumbent council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.

Maui’s Green Future Project, backed by groups that supported the 2014 GMO moratorium in Maui County, also spent over $14,000 on Facebook and print ads for Maui council candidates.

Planned Parenthood’s Super PAC spent $966 on emailed ads for numerous candidates.

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