Story updated at 10:30 a.m., 4/19/22
WASHINGTON — The field will be wide open at least in terms of campaign fundraising should Congressman Kai Kahele forgo reelection in 2022 to run for governor as he has strongly hinted.
So far, Kahele is the only candidate to report raising any money to run for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.
A number of other well-known politicians have pulled papers from the Hawaii Elections Office, signaling their intent to run for Kahele’s seat — including most recently Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters — but none have officially launched their campaigns in part because they’re waiting to see what Kahele decides.
Over the past four months, Kahele has rarely shown up for work in Washington all while laying the groundwork for a potential gubernatorial campaign.
His latest filings with the Federal Election Commission show he raised nearly $54,000 in the first quarter of this year. That’s less than any other quarter for Kahele so far this election cycle.
More than 70% of Kahele’s money this quarter came from special interest groups and political action committees, most of which are affiliated with the aviation industry.
Data shows Kahele received $22,000 from several airline companies and industry groups, including the PAC representing the business interests of United Airlines and the American Association of Airport Executives. Kahele is a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines, a job he kept while serving in the House.
Recent questions have been raised about Kahele’s relationship with the company, which lobbies Congress and has an interest in numerous bills that go before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that Kahele sits on.
Civil Beat reported last week that Hawaiian Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association — the union Kahele is a part of — crafted a special arrangement for Kahele after he was elected to allow him to continue earning a part-time salary on top of his $174,000 congressional income.
No other pilots in the company appear to have been granted the same privileges.
Kahele did not respond to a request for an interview. Instead, Kahele’s campaign issued a written statement late Monday about his fundraising, saying that the congressman “has chosen to spend his time working with and hearing directly from his constituents in Hawaiʻi.”
District work periods are a regular part of the official House schedule. From Jan. 1 to March 31, only 32 days were blocked out for votes or committee work. Lawmakers could use the rest of that time — about 30 days, not including weekends — to go home and be in their districts. Congress is currently in the midst of a two-week recess.
Kahele’s campaign reported spending more money than it raised in the first three months of 2022. Records show his campaign spent more than $63,000 on operating expenses alone.
A significant share of the money — about $24,000 — went to Hawaii-based campaign consulting companies, Kekela Enterprises and Alamedia LLC, which is owned by Micah Alameda and received $15,000 in the course of three months.
Kahele also reported paying a Hawaii-based company nearly $15,500 for a “residential security system” and another $1,800 to Matt Levi Corp. for “security services.”
The FEC unanimously approved the use of campaign funds for home security in 2017 after a gunman opened fire on lawmakers at a congressional baseball practice. Just last year the commission decided members of Congress could use those funds to hire bodyguards when not otherwise being protected by capitol law enforcement.
Since those decisions, FEC records show, Kahele is the only member of Hawaii’s federal delegation to take advantage of the new rules.
Kahele’s campaign said that the congressman decided to install security at his personal residence after he received “multiple, alarming threats that put the safety of him and his family at great risk.”
Kahele’s reports do not include any expenses for campaign fundraising events during the first three months of the year.
On March 31, which was the end of the reporting period, Kahele’s campaign had $456,000 in cash on hand available to his congressional campaign.
If Kahele decides to run for governor, he cannot transfer those funds to a state campaign, according to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case, meanwhile, reported raising nearly $120,000 in the first quarter of 2022.
The amount is less than what he raised in the previous two quarters when a spike in his donations seemed to correlate with his position on President Joe Biden’s now-stalled Build Back Better plan that Case, who is a moderate in his party, described as too expensive.
Similar to Kahele’s campaign, most of the new donations this quarter — $105,500 — came from PACs and special interest groups, including those representing military contractors, aviation and tourism, an industry Case used to work for before he was elected.
Case has never been shy about accepting PAC money, telling Civil Beat in 2019 when many of his fellow Democrats were swearing off corporate donations and money from lobbyists he continued to accept those contributions so long as the interests aligned with his own and there was transparency about where the money was coming from.
Unlike Kahele, Case has reported spending significant resources on his fundraising efforts, including paying a consultant $12,000 and hosting several events in Hawaii and Washington.
Case reported having $720,000 in cash on hand.
Sergio Alcubilla, who is challenging Case in the Democratic primary, reported raising just over $26,000 in the first quarter of 2021, bringing his total donations to just over $76,000.
Alcubilla is a Honolulu-based attorney and former staffer of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. He has so far raised all of his money from individual donors.
Alcubilla’s campaign spending reports were not immediately available to Civil Beat because he was not listed as a candidate on the FEC’s CD1 election page and did not appear in the agency’s candidate search function. A spokesperson for the FEC said the omission was a result of paperwork issue caused by Alcubilla’s campaign not filing an official statement of candidacy with the agency.
Conrad Kress, whose campaign website says he’s a former Navy SEAL, is the only Republican who has reported any federal contributions. Kress raised nearly $11,000, according to the FEC.
Democrat Brian Schatz is the only U.S. senator on the ballot in Hawaii in 2022.
So far this year, Schatz’s campaign has reported raising more than $300,000. That’s nearly five times the $62,000 raised by his Hawaii colleague, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who is not up for election again until 2024.
Schatz has long been a prolific fundraiser, and as of March 31, had more than $4 million in his campaign war chest.
His money, like others in the delegation, comes from a mix of individual donors and PACs representing diverse interests. Schatz is on the Appropriations Committee and chairman of Indian Affairs.
As such, he receives thousands of dollars in donations from companies with business interests tied to federal spending, such as Raytheon and General Dynamics, as well as from Native American tribes across the U.S.
Several island-based lobbyists have donated to his campaign as have those who work out of Washington, D.C.
The other donors include Eric Kingma, of the Hawaii Longline Association, which has often found itself at odds with Schatz over the future of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, and Don Henley, a founding member of the classic rock band the Eagles.
Schatz’s Republican challenger, state Rep. Bob McDermott, has not reported raising any money for his campaign.
Feena Bonoan, who is running as a Libertarian Party candidate, reported raising just over $3,800, much of it from two donors. Bonoan is relatively unknown in Hawaii politics. She mounted an unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Mike Gabbard in 2020, losing by nearly 36 percentage points.
According to her state Senate campaign website, Bonoan is a veteran from Makakilo, and is the executive operations officer of the Hawaii Veterans Cannabis Alliance.
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