It was a posh affair.

The venue: Hokua, the tony high rise of multimillion-dollar condos with expansive views of Ala Moana Beach and Magic Island. The entertainment: Amy Hanaialii, a six-time Grammy nominee and one of Hawaii’s premier singers. The suggested donation for admission: $500, $1,000 or $2,000.

Officially – and as far as the public could tell from official disclosures  – the sunset soiree was paid for by the candidate committees of four Hawaii state senators: Donovan Dela Cruz, Glenn Wakai, Michelle Kidani and Bennette Misalucha.

But undisclosed in public filings required for such political fundraisers was a behind-the-scenes host: Joanne Hamm, an energy industry lobbyist and Hokua resident also known as Nonie Toledo. (It’s a combination of a nickname and her maiden name, and she generally goes by that name although she’s registered with the state as Joanne Hamm.)

Hokua condo tower
The terrace at the Hokua condo building in Kakaako is not available for public rentals but can be used for parties by residents such as Joanne “Nonie Toledo” Hamm, a lobbyist who earlier this month hosted a fundraiser there for senators who supported bills that stand to benefit her client Hu Honua Bioenergy. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2022

Hamm’s client Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC had just scored big wins the month before, thanks in part to Wakai and Misalucha, who are the chair and vice chair of the Senate Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee; and Kidani and Dela Cruz, who sit on the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, which Dela Cruz chairs.

During the session that had just ended the four had sponsored and helped pass legislation that stood to benefit Hu Honua. One bill provides tax credits for operators of wood-burning power plants like Hu Honua, which are known as “firm renewables” plants. Another bill, which required Dela Cruz to step in to get it passed, requires each island’s renewable energy portfolio to include at least 33% firm renewables.

Under state law, Hawaii must transition to producing 100% of the electricity sold in the state with renewable resources by 2045. Requiring “firm renewables” to be part of the mix for each island could help rescue Hu Honua, which regulators have refused to greenlight because of concerns about carbon emissions and estimates that the project would raise consumer electric bills.

The firm renewables mandate, Senate Bill 2510, was widely criticized by local energy experts, including the University of Hawaii’s Natural Energy Institute, Hawaiian Electric and the Hawaii State Energy Office, as well as environmentalists and solar energy interests.

But Dela Cruz used his influence to push the measure through, employing political pressure in which he tag-teamed with Misalucha to jump on and off of conference committees in order to leverage support for the bill during the session’s final days.

Nonie Toledo June 8, 2022, fundraiser flier
The notice for a June 8 political fundraiser for Hawaii Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz, Michelle Kidani, Bennette Misalucha and Glenn Wakai advertises the venue, entertainment and suggested $500 minimum donation for admission, but not the host: the lobbyist for a controversial energy project the senators helped pass bills to support. 

Dela Cruz insists Senate Bill 2510 is merely a roadmap. Although the bill says firm renewables “shall be a minimum of 33.33 per cent of renewable energy generation for each island,” Dela Cruz says the bill doesn’t mandate using at least 33.33% firm renewables for each island. He also has denied it is intended to help Hu Honua.

But on June 8, just over a month after the session ended, Dela Cruz was with his fellow senators, at the terrace of Hamm’s luxe condo building, collecting checks.

Asked if the fundraiser hosted by Nonie Toledo had been a success, Misalucha replied with her own question, asking if Civil Beat had spoken to the other senators yet. She also wanted to know, “What’s the nature of your article?” and declined to comment further but promised to call back, which she did not do.

Hamm, Dela Cruz and Wakai did not return calls for comment.

However, in an email, Kidani said, “We held a combined fundraiser at Hokua Terrace on June 8, 2022. All Campaign Spending Commission rules were followed. Individually, we hosted and supplied our own volunteers who organized and helped at the event. Our campaigns sent out invites to our supporters.”

Misalucha said in a text that Kidani’s email was a “combined statement.”

While the four senators’ fundraising arms were the nominal hosts of the event, Hamm’s involvement was hardly a secret to the attendees.

Hamm emailed invitations under the name Nonie Toledo, and people who were there said senators stood up during the event and thanked her for hosting.

Event Raises Questions

A key question for campaign finance regulators would be whether the candidates’ fundraising notices accurately identify the person in charge of the event, said Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

Dela Cruz’s notice identifies the person in charge as Brett Lau, who is senior vice president of property management for Pacific Asset Strategies. Misalucha’s lists Brent Toyama, a consultant with the Hawaii Employers Council. Wakai and Kidani’s notices list themselves.

None mention Joanne Hamm or Nonie Toledo.

“Our law basically says that the notice must list the name and address of the person in charge,” Izumi-Nitao said.

If Hamm was actually the person in charge — and not Lau, Toyama, Wakai and Kidani — Izumi-Nitao said, “That’s something I’d take a look at for sure.”

Asked in an interview if the fundraiser was successful, Lau said he did not know because he was traveling at the time of the fundraiser and did not attend.

He said Hamm would be a good person to contact — “if you can get in touch with her” — and offered to forward a message to her office.

Toyama did not return a call for comment.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Authors