A fundraiser hosted by an energy lobbyist last month netted tens of thousands of dollars for two Hawaii lawmakers — the very same lawmakers who shepherded two controversial bills through the 2022 Legislature that were favorable to the lobbyist’s chief client.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz reported receiving $33,900 in donations from nearly 40 contributors on June 8, the day the fundraiser was held at the terrace of Hokua, a luxury high rise in Honolulu.

Sen. Glenn Wakai received $23,600 in donations from 45 contributors that same day, according to new campaign spending reports filed with the state. The donors to both senators include prominent attorneys, lobbyists and executives in the energy business.

Both senators were headliners along with state Sens. Bennette Misalucha and Michelle Kidani at a fundraiser hosted by Joanne Hamm, an energy industry lobbyist who goes by Nonie Toledo and runs the lobbying firm Nonie Toledo & Associates. Hamm lives at Hokua. The fundraiser was promoted via a colorful flier that was widely circulated.

Nonie Toledo & Associates’ client Hu Honua Bioenergy saw two bills pass this spring with the help of all four legislators. One of the bills would have provided tax credits for operators of wood-burning power plants like Hu Honua. The other bill would have required each island’s renewable energy portfolio to include at least 33% firm renewables and limit to 45% the amount of any one type of renewable energy that could be part of the island’s portfolio.

horizontal crop -- Nonie Toledo Joanne Hamm Fundraiser
A portion of the flier promoting the event. 

Dela Cruz, chair of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, pushed the latter measure — Senate Bill 2510 — through by exerting political pressure to leverage support for the bill during the session’s final days. The bills, widely denounced by energy and environmental experts, were vetoed on July 12 by Gov. David Ige, who called both measures objectionable for multiple reasons.

Ige concluded the measure’s prescriptive mandates didn’t consider that each island has different circumstances. Already, Ige said, the island of Kauai uses so much solar power that its portfolio would have been in violation of the measure if Ige had signed Senate Bill 2510 into law.

“The bill also pits different renewable technologies against each other based upon a dichotomy between firm and intermittent energy sources that is becoming obsolete,” Ige wrote, explaining why he vetoed Senate Bill 2510.

Links To Energy Interests

Kidani and Misalucha reported no donations on the day of the event, although they spent $2,125 to pay for in-kind entertainment by Amy Hanailii. Dela Cruz and Wakai paid the same amount each for the gig.

Tony Baldomero, associate director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said the law calls for reporting donations when they are deposited, not received, so it’s not uncommon for the dates listed on the disclosures to be after the fundraisers.

That appears to have happened here. On June 21, for example, Kidani reported dozens of donations worth thousands, many from the same people who gave to Wakai and Dela Cruz on June 8. Alicia Moy, president and chief executive of Nonie Toledo’s client Hawaii Gas, donated $500 to Kidani on June 22, according to Kidani’s disclosure. Misalucha reported getting $500 from Moy on June 10.

Later in June, Misalucha disclosed getting $1,000 from a lawyer whose firm has represented Hu Honua and $4,000 from a labor union that strongly supported Senate Bill 2510.

Dela Cruz said the event wasn’t his most lucrative fundraiser but was a success.

“We made more that we spent,” he said.

Misalucha, Kidani and Wakai did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Dela Cruz, who was attending the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement annual convention on Wednesday, dismissed the idea that the fundraiser was some kind of political pay back for pushing through a bill that would have helped Hu Honua, a project that burns wood to fuel a power plant. Dela Cruz has said if anything the bill sought to encourage geothermal development and it contained language specific to geothermal.

Still, it would almost certainly have benefited the Big Island company, which has struggled to persuade the state to allow it to burn trees to produce energy. The bill would have mandated “firm renewables” like electricity produced by Hu Honua, would have made up a third of the Big Island’s electricity.

There is also the question of whether the public filings for the June 8 fundraiser should have identified Hamm aka Toledo’s involvement.

In addition to Hu Honua, Nonie Toledo and Associates represents Hawaii Gas and C-PACE Alliance, described as a network of industry stakeholders committed in part to achieving “potential in energy efficiency,” economic competitiveness and private investment.

Recent clients include 174 Power Global, a commercial solar company based in California, and Hawaii Clean Power Alliance, a nonprofit focused on advancing development and sustainability of clean energy.

In addition to Hawaii Gas, a vice president for 174 Power Global donated to both Wakai and Dela Cruz on June 8. That executive, Laurence Greene, also gave the same amount — $500 — to Misalucha on June 21.

The senators also landed donations from lawyers with Yamamoto-Caliboso, now called Yamamoto Caliboso Heatherington, a boutique energy law firm that has represented Hu Honua.

Dela Cruz received a $500 donation from Jodi Yamamoto, a counsel with the firm, and Carlito Caliboso, a partner who formerly was chairman of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. Wakai got $500 from Dean Yamamoto, another partner in the firm.

Yamamoto is also listed as the corporate agent for the Hawaii Clean Power Alliance, Noni Toledo’s former client, which was one of the energy interests that testified in favor of Senate Bill 2510. By contrast the bill was criticized by the University of Hawaii’s Natural Energy Institute, Hawaiian Electric and the Hawaii State Energy Office, as well as environmentalists and solar energy interests.

Also testifying in favor of Senate Bill 2510 — and later donating to Dela Cruz at the Nonie Toledo fundraiser — was the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142. The ILWU contributed $2,000.

All told, June 8 was the day that Wakai raised more money than any other single day during the first six months of the year. His total take was $58,625 for the first six months of the year.

It was Dela Cruz’s single best day, too, for the filing period that runs from April 26 through June 30. He raised a total of $85,755 for that period. Dela Cruz also raised $24,150 from Jan. 1 through April 25.

Kidani is vice president of the Senate. Wakai is chair of the Senate Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism Committee, while Misalucha is vice chair.

Dela Cruz, Wakai and Kidani face no Democratic primary opponent in the Aug. 13 election, though Misalucha is up against term-limited Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante.

In a joint statement last month, the four senators said “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.”

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