Scott Saiki has 10 times the amount of cash in his campaign war chest compared with Kim Coco Iwamoto.

If dollars were votes, the state representative for District 25 (Ala Moana, Kakaako, Downtown) would be guaranteed reelection this year.

Scott Saiki, the speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives since 2017, has $220,000 in cash on hand, a total helped by generous donations from dozens of local political action committees and influential friends. Contributors include the Hawaii Medical Service Association Employee PAC and Shelee Kimura, CEO of Hawaiian Electric.

To understand just how much money Saiki is sitting on, the winners of House races in 2022 on average raised $47,000 and spent $41,000. Saiki has more than four times that amount raised and has already spent $24,000 on things like food and beverages for a fundraiser at MW Restaurant and for consulting services from the Maccabee Group of Bethesda, Maryland.

The House of Representatives speaker Scott Saiki meets with the media after opening day the legislative session Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in Honolulu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)
Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki is in an election rematch with Kim Coco Iwamoto. Saiki currently has $220,000 in hand, more than 10 times that of opponent Kim Coco Iwamoto. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2024)

Saiki’s challenger in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary, Kim Coco Iwamoto, reported having barely $20,000 in her coffers. Half that money comes from a $10,000 contribution from Iwamoto herself.

And yet, the former state Board of Education member and former head of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission has managed to give Saiki a scare in the past two elections. Just 161 votes separated the incumbent from Iwamoto in the 2022 primary, which Saiki won. The margin was a mere 167 votes just two years before that.

That an underfunded candidate running a grassroots campaign on a shoestring budget against one of the most powerful elected officials in the state — one first elected way back in 1994 — shows that money is not always the deciding factor in a race’s outcome.

Saiki and Iwamoto confirmed that they are both in the running this year. Their most recent disclosure reports filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission cover the last six months of 2023. 

To be certain, winning candidates are usually the ones with the most money. But Saiki is making sure that he has more than enough cash to survive a third consecutive battle with Iwamoto.

Kim Coco Iwamoto at Margaritas Hawaii during a gathering she had on the weekend announcing running for House District 26 seat.
Kim Coco Iwamoto challenged Scott Saiki in 2022, and has confirmed she is running again this year and is spending to topple Saiki in the rematch. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Iwamoto, in the meantime, is also spending to topple Saiki. Her recent expenditures ($14,500 from July 1 to Dec. 31) went to pay for things like email services, campaign phones, bank charges — even a $50 in-kind payment for dog treats while canvassing.

The Saiki-Iwamoto rematch is one of the most closely watched legislative contests of 2024. It’s still early, and most incumbents are consumed with the legislative session that runs for three more months. Election season really begins in earnest after that.

But here are other takeaways from the recent CSC filings.

Other Races

Thirteen of the 25 seats in the Senate are up this year, but the senator who has the most financial wherewithal isn’t on the ballot.

Donovan Dela Cruz, an Oahu senator and chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, isn’t up again until 2026, but has $1 million dollars in the bank. His contributors include the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters PAC and Dwight Mitsunaga, president of Pacific Architects.

To put Dela Cruz’s political cash into perspective, consider that in 2022 winning senators raised on average $102,000 and spent $85,000.

The one Senate candidate that has pulled nomination papers (though not officially filed them; the deadline is June 4) with the Hawaii Office of Elections is Rep. Cedric Gates. He wants to replace Sen. Maile Shimabukuro in District 22, who is leaving the Senate this year and has already endorsed Gates.

Gates has $37,700 in cash, but that figure does not include donations from the three fundraisers he held in January. The next reporting deadline is April 30, which will reflect candidates who filed nomination papers through April 25.

All 51 House seats are up for grabs this year, as is the case every election cycle. Among the ones that are expected to be competitive is the Democratic primary between Rep. Trish La Chica and Ken Inouye, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye.

La Chica was appointed last year to fill a vacancy for the District 37 seat that represents parts of Mililani Town, Mililani Mauka, Koa Ridge and Waipio Gentry. She raised $25,000 in the most recent reporting period and has $22,000 in cash. Donors include Rep. Linda Ichiyama and Sen. Glenn Wakai, and the Local Union 1186 IBEW PAC Fund.

Inouye, in his first run for public office, pulled in $41,000 and has $37,000 in cash. Contributors include former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, the late senator’s chief of staff, Jennifer Sabas, and the Young Brothers PAC. Inouye also loaned himself $5,000.

Democrat Rep. Daniel Holt has taken out papers to run this year, as has the Aloha Aina Party candidate who lost to him in 2022, Ernest Caravalho. Holt raised $7,000 and has $42,000 in the bank. He also held three fundraisers last month for the District 28 seat representing Sand Island, Iwilei and Chinatown. Those donations will be reported April 30.

Caravalho, who is now poised to run as a Democrat against Holt in the primary, reported a mere $192 in cash and no donations at all.

And in another potential rematch, Democratic Rep. Jenna Takenouchi took in $10,000 and now has about $45,000 to use for a likely run for the District 27 seat (Pacific Heights, Nuuanu, Liliha). The Republican she defeated handily in 2022, Margaret Lim, has been issued nomination papers, but she has not filed a recent campaign finance report.

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