A prominent Thirty Meter Telescope supporter and attorney has emerged as the leader in the field in campaign donations for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees race. But political observers say incumbents have the advantage of name recognition so traditionally have not needed to raise as much.

Sam King raised $35,675 between Jan. 1 and June 30 in his bid for one of three at-large seats on the board that are up for election, according to the latest campaign finance report.

King faces a crowded field of 10 other candidates, including two incumbents, John Waihee IV, the son of former Gov. John Waihee, and Lei Ahu Isa, a former state representative. The next largest fundraiser was real estate agent Keoni Souza, who received $18,948 in donations in the last six months.

“Running a statewide race takes money and raising your name recognition takes money,” said Jacob Aki, a member of the Kuini Pi‘olani Hawaiian Civic Club. “If you’re a newcomer who doesn’t have the name recognition or you don’t have the money to run, it’s difficult to win.”

OHA Candidate Samuel King III during forum held at the Windward Community College campus.
OHA at-large candidate Sam King is an attorney and an open Thirty Meter Telescope supporter. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

What’s At Stake?

By comparison, Waihee, who has been an OHA trustee-at-large since 2000, hasn’t reported any money raised this year. Ahu Isa, who has served on the board since 2018 and is the vice chair, wasn’t required to file a spending report because she didn’t intend to receive contributions or spend more than $1,000, according to the state Campaign Spending Commission.

All registered voters may vote for OHA candidates, with six of the nine trustee seats up for grabs. The at-large seats and a resident seat for Oahu will be on the ballot in the Aug. 13 primary. Only two contenders are vying for the Hawaii island seat, so they will go straight to the Nov. 8 general election. OHA Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey is running unopposed for the Maui seat.

The election comes as OHA, which is tasked with improving the well-being of Native Hawaiians, is due to receive more public revenue from public lands than in past years, including a lump sum of $64 million, which the new trustees must help decide how to spend.

Trustees have been divided in the past over the construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea, which stalled after protests in 2015 and 2019 by Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred. The candidates running this year also disagree on the topic.

Keoni Souza, a candidate for an at-large seat on the OHA board of trustees, received $18,948 in donations in the last six months. Courtesy: Keoni Souza

King is a longtime supporter of TMT, saying the telescope “represents the next chapter in our culture’s enduring legacy of incredible contributions to astronomy, celestial navigation and natural observation.”

Another at-large candidate, former State Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, also supports the construction of what would be the world’s largest optical telescope, but most of the other candidates oppose it or say they stand by OHA’s official neutral stance on the topic.

William Paik said in an interview that he doesn’t have an opinion on the issue.

Zuri Aki said in a Civil Beat questionnaire that TMT is a complex issue and he cannot give a definitive “yes” or “no” on the question of its construction because he doesn’t know where the TMT is with its development plans.

However, he added, “I strongly support astronomical development in these islands and I also strongly believe that astronomical development can contain principles and technologies in both Western origin and indigenous/Native Hawaiian – it can be both traditional and brand new.”

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Aki didn’t give his opinion.

Waihee and Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee, who is running for the Oahu seat, each said he stands by OHA’s official neutral position on TMT. Oahu incumbent Kalei Akaka also said she stands by that position.

King more than doubled his campaign funds compared with his run for OHA’s Oahu seat in 2018.

At-Large Race

He got a total of $9,520 from attorneys from Starn O’Toole Marcus and Fisher, Watanabe Ing, Kobayashi Sugita and Goda, the Law Offices of James J. Stone and King and King. David Lundquist, executive of HH Holdings Inc., donated $3,000 this year, reaching the maximum $6,000 allowed in OHA elections.

Other notable donations include $1,000 from an astronomer, $1,000 from the Equal Opportunity Administrator and ADA Coordinator Denise Tsukayama from Honolulu Department of Human Resources, $1,000 from the president of Monoscalco Consulting, $1,000 from the president of Hawaii Sports Management, $1,000 from the owner of Nan Inc. and $1,300 from the owner of Hawaii Pot Shabu Shabu House. Rep. Gene Ward’s campaign the Friends of Gene Ward also gave $200.

Correction: An earlier version of the story didn’t specify who within the organizations gave the donations.

OHA trustee-at-large Kelii Akina gave him a verbal endorsement, stressing it was in his private capacity.

“Sam has the intelligence, integrity, and commitment to serve the Hawaiian people and all people of the state,” Akina said in an email.

King started the year with about $3,900 and is left with $2,639.

He also spent more money on his campaign than his competitors at $35,000, including more than $16,300 total on PR services for photo shoots, website design, Facebook ads, banners and road signs. Other funds went toward voter registration data lists, cards, posters and lei for a Ukraine rally.

 

Souza, meanwhile, got about $2,300 less than what he raised when he unsuccessfully ran for OHA in 2020. He asked the Hawaii Supreme Court for a recount after losing to Akina by 1,623, but the court denied his request.

Ironworkers for Better Government donated $1,000 while a lawyer from the Law Offices Of Vladimir Devens donated $2,000 to Souza's campaign. He also got $500 from Robert Hill III, who unsuccessfully ran for House District 8 in 2020.

Souza spent $19,883 on this campaign this year, including $14,570 on radio ads. The rest of his money went toward banners, Facebook ads and flights to neighbor islands.

Souza also loaned his campaign more than $15,000. He's left with a deficit of $10,539.

OHA’s former public policy advocate Zuri Aki started this year with $626 and raised $1,160 in the last six months from donors including the founder of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Robin Danner ($300) and University of Hawaii law instructor Kenneth Lawson ($200).

Correction: An earlier version of the story gave an incorrect title and amount donated by Danner.

He spent his money on a website domain registration, website hosting, campaign mailbox fees, candidate filing fees and food for a forum.

Retired Canadian Football League player Chad Owens received only $1,000 from Local Union 293 Legislature Fund. He now has $875 after spending $124 on T-shirts, banners, yard signs and the filing fee for his nomination papers.

Crowded Field

Retired school administrator Julian Ako raised $100 and has spent no money on his campaign so far.

Galuteria didn’t raise money in the last six months but started the year with $65,757. That money was carried over from his campaign when he was a state senator. He has only spent $2,170 on a half-page ad on OHA's monthly newspaper Ka Wai Ola, renting his P.O. Box, and fees for his domain name.

Waihee has a $22,000 loan, which came from his father, and has a deficit of $21,258. The last time Waihee raised money was in 2018, when he received $500 from United Public Workers Political Action Committee, campaign figures show.

Healani Sonoda-Pale, a longtime political observer of OHA, said candidates need between $30,000 and $50,000 to run a successful campaign.

Sonoda-Pale noted that Souza faces a tough race because of King, Galuteria, Waihee and Owens.

"You have Sam King, who raised more money so that gives him an inch," she said. "You have Chad Owens, who is a celebrity in Hawaii. You also have Brickwood Galuteria who has been in politics for a long time, he was a radio DJ, so he has name recognition."

At-large candidates U‘i Kahue-Cabanting, Kealii Makekau and William Paik also were not required to fill spending reports because they didn't intend to receive contributions or spend more than $1,000.

Oahu Seat

Four candidates are vying for the Oahu seat. Incumbent Kalei Akaka has raised $9,735 this year – about $2,800 more than Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee, who vacated his at-large seat.

OHA Trustee Kaleihikina Akaka during board meeting.
OHA Oahu trustee Kalei Akaka is seeking reelection this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Akaka was elected as trustee in 2018 and is the granddaughter of Hawaii’s late Sen. Daniel Akaka.

She got $3,000 from Lindsey, the OHA chair, and $6,000 from a dental hygienist.

She still has $6,416 after spending $3,335 this year, mainly to repay loans, according to campaign spending figures. She started the year with just $16.

OHA Trustee Brendon Lee during board meeting.
Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee is vacating his at-large seat to run for the Oahu seat. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Lee, meanwhile, spent about $3,933 more on his campaign this year than Akaka. He loaned $5,000 to his campaign.

Lee reported spending $7,268 on printing checks, lei for commercials, campaign stickers, business cards, fundraiser venues and fliers. But his largest expense was $5,233 on a commercial during Merrie Monarch.

Lee raised $6,900 this year. He received small donations of $950 total. Joe Kuhio Lewis, CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, donated $250.

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said OHA's outreach engagement donated $250.

After starting this year with $1,479 cash on hand, he has a deficit of $3,889.

"They may go to a runoff at the general election," Sonoda-Pale said. "That's when things get dirty."

Oahu candidates Jackie Burke and Robert Peters were not required to file.

We’re here to help Hawaii vote.

Our staff has spent months preparing for this election season. Now it’s your turn to vote on the leaders who will impact our community for years to come.

If you’ve relied on our daily analysis and reporting, Candidate Q&As, free events and online resources, please consider making a donation to your local nonprofit newsroom.

Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism.

About the Author