Retired MMA fighter BJ Penn led the top Republican candidates for governor in fundraising during the first half of this year after raking in $225,000, according to recently filed campaign spending reports.

He’s trailed closely by Oahu contractor and activist Gary Cordery, who raised $205,536 between Jan. 1 and June 30. Cordery outspent the other candidates, including Penn, dropping $185,276 on the race so far.

Honolulu City Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi raised about $36,000 and spent $29,000. Former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona entered the race last and is trailing after raising $23,620.

The GOP primary candidates have raised far less than their Democratic counterparts, who are spending millions of dollars of personal funds and donor money to sway voters ahead of the Primary Election on Aug. 13. Mail-in ballots go out July 26.

In the GOP race, Penn still has the strongest financial position heading into the last month before ballots drop in mailboxes. His campaign reported having $140,000 on hand going into July.

Penn’s campaign is bolstered by $30,000 worth of donations that were $100 or less. Records show he also loaned his campaign $47,000. About $60,000 came from local family and associates in Las Vegas with connections to the MMA world.

BJ Penn led fundraising in the GOP contest for governor through the first six months of 2022. 

Those who donated the maximum $6,000 allowed in a gubernatorial race include Aiea resident Christina Penn, Lorraine Shin, Penn’s mother, Jodi Penn and Reagan Penn.

UFC President Dana White as well as Las Vegas billionaires Lorenzo and Teressa Fertitta also maxed their donations to Penn’s campaign. In 2019, White told reporters that Penn would never again have a fight in the UFC after video emerged of an altercation between Penn and another man in Hawaii.

The Fertittas own the Station Casinos chain in Las Vegas and are longtime GOP donors. Lorenzo Fertitta, along with his brother Frank, bought the UFC in the early 2000s and brought on their friend White to head the company. The Fertitta brothers sold the UFC in 2017, according to Forbes.

But most of his donors have Hawaii addresses and include Hilo business owners like Mariner Revell ($1,000), who owns the Kimura General Store.

Penn’s largest single expense was $27,000 for data services from Wilkerson Public Affairs in Olympia, Washington.

Cordery reported about $22,000 in non-monetary contribution from his contracting company, Commercial Facility’s Specialists Inc. for advertising, media, yard signs, and banners. The company does business under the name Kingdom Builders.

Cordery also got $18,000 worth of donations that were under $100. Many of his donors are local business owners and contractors.

Those that maxed donations to his campaign include Donna Antone, a Kailua missionary; Deborah Barbour, owner of Hawaii Integrated Services & Supplies; chiropractor Erik Shimane; Jasmine Yim, owner of Doterra Health Multi-Marketing; and Johnette Schenk, of Hawaii Home Management.

Cordery also got $4,000 each from David Lundquist, owner of Hardware Hawaii, Leeward Community College professor Jessica Choi and local billionaire Annie Chan.

Chan along with her husband Fred have donated thousands to the Hawaii Republican Party over the years. The couple struck it rich developing computer processing chips in California in the 1990s.

Gary Cordery, director of the Aloha Freedom Coalition speaks during a press conference held at Honolulu Hale.
Gary Cordery spent the most of any candidate in the GOP race to be the party’s nominee for governor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Cordery spent $32,000 on advertising. He’s also spent about $12,500 on consulting contracts with Virginia-based public relations firm Cutting Edge.

Tsuneyoshi’s top donor was Service Corporation International. The funeral and cremation services provider based in Houston gave her campaign $5,000.

Her other top donor is Laie Trucking Company, which gave her campaign $3,000. Others that donated between $1,000 and $1,650 include Sarah Chinen, a Hawaiian Air Conditioning employee; Dexter Eji, an engineer at the firm WSP; Andrew Tajiri, vice president of Tajiri Lumber; and Jesse Rivera, a musician and retired firefighter.

Tsuneyoshi spent about $10,000 in printing services with local media group Hagadone.

Aiona, who leads the GOP race in the polls, only started fundraising in late June and raised all of his $23,000 in a nine-day period between June 21 and June 30.

No one maxed their contributions to his campaign. His top donor was insurance consultant Mark Yen ($5,000), followed by retired Aiea resident James Hamada ($4,000).

Aiona also got $4,000 from Mile Kawakami, president of Hawaii Carpet One. A third of his donors are retirees, including former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who donated $2,000 to Aiona’s campaign.

So far his only expenditure, of 85 cents, was for bank charges.

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