Kai Kahele’s gubernatorial campaign, which has made a point to shun donations from special interest groups, will not be eligible for the public funding he’s so vigorously championed this election cycle. 

Kahele was supposed to file an affidavit promising to abide by spending limits along with his candidate paperwork. But he failed to file that document so state officials say he can’t receive public money.

Hawaii’s partial public funding system matches small campaign donations up to a certain amount. The amount varies by office and by year, and is set by the state’s Campaign Spending Commission. 

Representative Kai Kahele speaks during a Red Hill Fuel tank rally held at the Capitol.
Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele won’t be able to receive public financing this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

To qualify, candidates for governor must receive at least $100,000 in donations of less than $100 each — all from Hawaii residents — and must limit their total campaign expenditures to a predetermined amount.

These candidates can receive up to $208,116.50 in matched funds, an amount equaling 10% of this year’s total expenditure limit. If the candidate wins the primary, they’re eligible for a second round of funding for the general election, with all the same rules in place.

This means that if Kahele were to win the primary – a tall order, given Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s 30 point lead according to a recent Civil Beat poll – his campaign would miss out on over $400,000 of readily available public funding. 

Instead of being automatically considered for receiving public funds, candidates must first agree to the spending limit via an affidavit, which must be notarized and submitted by the time they file for election. It was this affidavit that Kahele failed to submit, rendering him ineligible.

After receiving the requisite $100,000 in small donations, candidates can then submit a separate notarized application to begin actually receiving the matched funds. Last month, Kahele’s campaign announced that it had passed the minimum fundraising threshold to apply.

None of the other frontrunners for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination had planned to pursue public financing. Kahele, however, vowed to avoid donations from unions, corporations, and political action committees in favor of using the state’s partial public funding system.

The campaign did not return a phone call asking for comment.

Tony Baldomero, associate director at the Campaign Spending Commission, confirmed that Kahele did not file an affidavit and is thus not eligible to receive public financing. He said that even the commission was surprised to learn this fact, given that Kahele had applied for funding after passing the fundraising threshold. 

According to Baldomero, 172 candidates for state office have filed affidavits out of a total of 368. This is on par for normal election cycles, he said.

While these candidates don’t often win their races, said Baldomero, notable exceptions include Gov. David Ige in 2014 and Gov. Ben Cayetano in 1994 during their initial runs. 

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