A local businessman who favors Republicans in this deeply Democratic state has emerged as the top donor to political candidates in the 2022 elections.

Mike Rompel, the owner of Domino’s Pizza franchises in Hawaii, contributed $52,000 mostly to right-leaning candidates, making him the single largest contributor in the last two years, a Civil Beat analysis of campaign finance data shows.

This includes in 2021 the maximum contribution of $6,000 to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who’s now the Democratic nominee for governor. But that donation seems to be an anomaly in both timing and partisan tilt.

Three-quarters of Rompel’s donations occurred in 2022, mostly to conservative candidates like Seaula Jr. Tupai, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Sen. Kurt Fevella, Hawaii’s only Republican state senator. 

Hokua condo tower
Well over $100,000 in contributions have come from individuals who list their address at the glitzy Hokua, including prominent developer Bert A. Kobayashi Sr. and his family. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2022

These make Rompel the top GOP donor by far, his $22,000 in donations to Republican candidates more than doubling the next highest contributor’s $10,000 in donations.

Records show that Rompel only started donating to political candidates in summer 2020, a change he attributes to witnessing which community members helped out the most during the pandemic.

Before, he said, “I never wanted to be involved in the political process, I just wanted to run my business.”

But he was already seeing team members at his pizza shops struggle to get by, not to mention how difficult it has become to open up franchises like he did in the 1990s, he said.

Many of Hawaii’s candidates campaign on affordability, said Rompel, so his task when donating is to find candidates he think can actually pull it off.

Republicans often met this criteria for him, though Rompel said Green’s performance during the pandemic was impressive enough to earn a donation.

Outside of that, part of his mental calculation has to do with strengthening underdog candidates, he said, and “the Republican Party happens to be underdogs in Hawaii.”

Like in the pizza business, he said, strong competition is important for ensuring the best possible quality for both consumers and voters.

It’s not an exact science, he said. Sometimes he just liked candidates after meeting them, even when that meant donating to multiple candidates in the same race — like when Democrat Sherry Menor-McNamara and Republican Seaula Tupai both ran to be their respective party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. Rompel donated the maximum contribution of $6,000 to each of them. Tupai won his race; Menor-McNamara lost to Rep. Sylvia Luke.

If I would’ve spent time with seven candidates, I probably would’ve supported them all,” he said with a laugh. 

The analysis of campaign finance records shows that while donations to Republicans still pale in comparison to Democrats, they’re seeing a bit of a spike this year, a fact reflected by their higher turnout at the polls during this month’s primaries.

“Republicans are seeing hope for the future,” said Lynn Finnegan, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party.

Finnegan said that she made fundraising a priority after becoming chair last November, referencing the Republicans’ obvious need for resources if they want to stage viable campaigns against an entrenched Democratic Party.

This year’s fundraising, she said, demonstrates the party’s success at building excitement at the local level through finding new candidates who might not have otherwise considered running.

But beyond Rompel, many of the biggest donors are familiar names in Hawaii’s world of political influence.

Blake Oshiro and Bruce Coppa of Capitol Consultants – a sought-after lobbying firm whose website lists clients like Pfizer, AT&T and Kamehameha Schools – each donated a little under $45,000.

They gave close to the limit to Green in his run for governor, as well as Luke, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who are Democrats running for reelection.

Keohokalole is chair of the Senate Health Committee, and Dela Cruz chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Luke chaired the House Finance Committee.  

Before becoming a lobbyist for Capitol Consultants, Oshiro was a state representative for about a decade and later became Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff. He explained that a lot of his donation choices come from the connections he’s made, and sometimes he’ll donate to candidates running against each other.

“I’m friends with a lot of them,” he said.

And in the early days of election season, he said, it’s hard to know who’ll end up staging the better campaign, spurring him to sometimes donate to multiple candidates to help keep their operations going.

Other top donors include Jennifer Sabas, who’s remained politically active after serving as chief of staff for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. She’s contributed about $28,000 so far this cycle. 

Sabas gave $6,000 to Jill Tokuda, who won the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, continuing her longtime support of Tokuda.

She also gave Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi $4,000 after he took office in 2021, the legal maximum for his position. 

Developer Everett Dowling gave heavily to Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Luke, as well as to Vicky Cayetano, whose campaign for governor ended when she lost the primary race for the Democratic nomination.

Dowling, who lives on Maui, also gave the legal limit of $2,000 to Maui County Council member Tasha Kama.

Altogether, Dowling has so far contributed about $36,000 to candidates this cycle. 

Lobbyist Blake Oshiro on the CB Crossover panel.
Lobbyist Blake Oshiro, an executive at Capital Consultants, has so far contributed about $44,000 this election cycle. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Dowling wasn’t the only developer to exercise his influence. 

The Kobayashis, who made their fortune developing real estate, directed some of their contributions toward Honolulu City Council candidates, including two who are running against each other.

Bert A. Kobayashi Jr. donated $4,000 to both Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Traci Toguchi, who are squaring off for the council’s District 6 seat and will both advance to the general election. He also donated the legal limit to Council member Calvin Say, Richard Bissen — a frontrunner in Maui’s mayoral race — and Rep. Val Okimoto, who’s running to represent District 8 on the Honolulu City Council. Council member Tommy Waters received $2,000 from Kobayashi.

The elder Bert A. Kobayashi focused on a similar subset of races, contributing thousands of dollars to Dos Santos-Tam, Say, Okimoto and House Speaker Scott Saiki.

The Kobayashis did not respond to requests for comment.

Another major donor, Ronald Amemiya, the former state attorney general, contributed about $31,000 to his son Keith Amemiya, the former Honolulu mayoral candidate who came in third this year for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. 

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