Lt. Gov. Josh Green has held some 50 fundraisers in the last four years since he launched his campaign for governor, more than any other candidate this election season, a Civil Beat review of campaign finance records show.

Green has also held more fundraisers than any other candidate in the last decade, with about 80 events aimed at drawing in campaign cash. Most of those fundraisers took place on the campaign trail to the governor’s office. The first, in August 2018, was at a San Francisco restaurant. The latest was in early October at a Kahala home. Green and other candidates paused most of their fundraising activities during the worst of the pandemic.

The ground game appears to have paid off. Green raised more money this election cycle — $3.4 million – than any other candidate who ran for office this year. Of that, just over $1 million has come from donors outside the state.

His top donors include executives at First Hawaiian Bank; ProService, a human resources company; the Hawaii Medical Services Association, and the engineering firm R.M. Towill Corp.

Josh Green Primary 2022 Campaign Party Lei
Lt. Gov. Josh Green is covered in lei after taking by far the most votes in the Democratic primary for governor. He is also the top recipient of campaign cash flowing to political candidates this election cycle. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2022

Republican Duke Aiona has raised just over $170,000 this election cycle. He just started campaigning this summer, announcing his entry into the governor’s race just before the June filing deadline. His top donors are business owners — from car dealerships and coffee farms.

Aiona, an attorney, has gathered the biggest chunk of his campaign dollars from retirees. More than $66,000, or about 38% of Aiona’s war chest, came from those who identified themselves as retired.

He’s also gotten some support from business owners. Patrick Aiona, who owns a car dealership in Hilo, gave Aiona $6,000 as did Georgette Silva, who owns West Oahu Aggregate Co., and William Dwyer, owner of Kona Mountain Coffee.

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Many of Green’s donors – and to a lesser extent Aiona’s – are not only donating to their preferred gubernatorial candidate but to other candidates as well. More than $19 million has been raised this election cycle by isle politicians. That’s counting all the money raised between November 2018 — the start of this four-year campaign cycle — and Sept. 26, when the latest campaign finance reporting period ended.

Most of that money has come from the businesses, developers, attorneys and other executives who spread their money across a multitude of candidates in an effort to buy influence.

Civil Beat called a number of donors to get a better understanding of what motivates them to make political donations. Most either didn’t return calls or said they didn’t want to talk about it. Those who did said they knew the candidate or agreed with their stances on issues.

Political donors have always been reluctant to talk about their donations. Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy institute, said that recent indictments involving campaign contributions to former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro may have had a chilling effect on donors, who may not want information regarding their donations to be publicly broadcast.

Conventional wisdom holds that donors donate to candidates they support, or those who have similar policy goals or match their political ideals. Donations are commonly made to incumbents who hold some decision making power, such as the chairs of legislative committees or leaders of the House, Senate and county councils.

In Hawaii, it’s mostly about access. Although a governor can’t directly sign off on contracts or jam favorable pieces of legislation through the State Capitol, the state’s top executive may be able to put some pressure on executive agencies to get work done.

They play a role in contract negotiations with public employees, which affects workers unions.

They pick the cabinet members who will oversee areas like agriculture, the economy and resource management. The next governor will have a role in deciding what kinds of renewable energy projects to move forward, where to build more housing, and how to move forward with development of the Aloha Stadium site.

Entrance doors to Governor's Office at the Hawaii Capitol Building 1.9.14
Hawai’s governor exerts significant influence over public policy and the state’s business. Political donors are generally looking to gain access or have some sway with the winning candidate. PF Bentley/Civil Beat/2014

It might cost some money, but it pays to have a governor on your side.

“If you call them, you’d want them to take your call, take your meeting, give you a seat at the table,” Moore said. “From an instrumental perspective, that’s what’s being bought: access. And that is incredibly valuable.”

Contractors And Lobbyists

Most of the state’s top donors are giving to a big range of candidates. R.M. Towill topped the list of donors making contributions during the election cycle. Company executives donated a total of $206,000 to races in the last four years. Green’s campaign received $25,000 from the engineering firm’s leadership.

The firm specializes in wastewater projects and has worked on numerous other construction projects in the state. It’s also pumped thousands of dollars into the coffers of local politicians for decades.

Towill received about $45 million worth of state contracts during the same time frame it donated to candidates for the 2022 election, according to state contract awards data.

Company executives weren’t available to speak this week regarding their political donations.

A committee of government watchdogs is moving to end the practice of government contractors donating money to politicians.

On Wednesday, the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct voted to forward a bill to the Legislature that would ban the owners and officers of businesses contracted with the government from making political donations.

The current law in Hawaii only applies the ban to the contracted company, but not any of its employees.

One developer said he wants to donate to candidates who support the construction industry. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Moore said direct instances of quid-pro-quo corruption are rare. Most wealthy donors are making contributions to have a direct line to the governor.

Others might donate on ideological grounds. Thomas Hulihee, vice president of Royal Contracting, places himself in that group.

Hulihee said he donates to people whose stances he agrees with.

“Most people should be concerned with the economy, infrastructure, inflation, jobs – we’re working people,” he said.

Before making donations, Hulihee said he will sometimes receive flyers from candidates’ campaigns.

He recalled sitting at the rear of a Green fundraiser he was invited to and hearing the LG speak.

“He said ‘I was an emergency room doctor, I had to make tough decisions that I needed to stand by when it comes to somebody’s life,’” Hulihee recalled Green saying. “I kind of liked that.”

Records show Hulihee donated the maximum amount allowable to Green’s campaign — $6,000. He’s contributed $10,500 total to candidates this election season. Two other Royal Contracting employees also gave Green $2,500 in donations.

Hulihee said he donates to candidates who are pro-development and would be less likely to donate to those who take an anti-development stance. He said he doesn’t expect anything in return for his donations and just hopes it helps his preferred candidate get elected.

“I just hope they live up to be men and women of their word,” Hulihee said. “If this is what they say, then this is what they do. I hope they walk their talk.”

A state procurement database shows Royal Contracting won $8.2 million worth of construction contracts for state and county projects.

Those in the legal practice contributed most to candidates this election season, with lawyers contributing more than $1 million to local races. Green reported receiving $350,000 from attorneys, the most of any profession that donated to him this election season.

Imanaka Asato was the top law firm contributing to candidates this election season. Its attorneys doled out more than $165,000 to candidates, of which Green received about $15,000.

Conference Committee meeting overflow Capitol. AM session.
Lobbyists often donate heavily to political candidates. Access to policymakers is integral to their business. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Many of the large law firms in Hawaii also have branches that lobby state government. Attorneys at Imanaka Asato are registered to lobby for dozens of clients representing interests in shipping, the hotel industry, telecommunications and construction.

Capitol Consultants, the state’s largest lobby shop, also spent big this election season, pumping more than $90,000 into local campaigns. The firm gave Green more than $11,000.

For a lobbyist, access is everything. Being able to call a lawmaker to talk over policy, or reach people in the executive branch that oversee those policies is invaluable to their clients.

“Most of these donors are really wealthy,” Moore said. “A few thousand dollars is meaningless to them.”

Out Of State Donations

Green has raised more money out of state than any other candidate in the race this year. Just a little more than $1 million in campaign cash has come from outside Hawaii’s shores.

The only candidate who came close was Kirk Caldwell, who got just over $100,000 from out of state. Caldwell dropped out of the race in February.

Out of state donations are legally allowable, so long as they amount to 30% or less of all of a candidate’s donations. Green’s out of state donations amount to about 29.3% of all his campaign funds.

Green’s out of state donations opened him up to political attacks earlier this year from U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who lost to Green in the primary election.

Aiona meanwhile has raised just $6,200 from outside Hawaii this election season from retirees living in California and Washington.

Donations to Green linked to the company Nomi Health totaled just over $26,000, according to a USA Today investigation of the company. That makes Nomi Health one of the top out-of-state contributors to Green’s campaign.

Another out-of-state company donating to Green this election season was the health insurance company Centene Corp. The company’s political action committee gave $6,000 to the campaign while three of the company’s executives combined to give $15,000.

Centene’s local arm is the Ohana Health Plan, which provides Medicaid and Medicare coverage.

Other out-of-state donors are also affiliated with the medical field or are doctors themselves. Still others are friends and family of Green’s.

Paul Oosterhuis, a Washington, D.C., attorney with the law firm Skadden, said he’s been close friends with Green’s father since college and that he’s “known Josh all his life.”

“Josh is one of my favorite people,” Oosterhuis said regarding his decision to donate to his campaign. “Whatever he wants to do he will do well.”

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