Nick Grube – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Fri, 26 Apr 2019 10:01:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Ed Case: Some PAC Money Is OK As Long As He Knows Where It’s Coming From https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/ed-case-some-pac-money-is-ok-as-long-as-he-knows-where-its-coming-from/ Fri, 26 Apr 2019 10:01:31 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1329624 WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is a sugar man. It runs through his blood. Case’s grandfather and uncle both worked in the Aloha State’s once-dominant sugar industry. While Case himself never took part in the business directly, he still considers it a part of his island identity. When he first moved to Washington in […]

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WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is a sugar man. It runs through his blood.

Case’s grandfather and uncle both worked in the Aloha State’s once-dominant sugar industry. While Case himself never took part in the business directly, he still considers it a part of his island identity.

When he first moved to Washington in the mid-1970s to work as a legislative aide to then-U.S. Rep. Spark Matsunaga Hawaii’s sugarcane was still a top priority.

Now, more than four decades later, it still is despite the fact that sugar shut down in 2016 when Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar closed its last mill on Maui.

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar mill electric . 4 aug 2016

The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar mill on Maui closed in 2016, marking the end of an era in Hawaii agriculture.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The nation’s sugar interests look to Case as their advocate in Congress.

That was no more clear than in the first quarter of 2019 when the congressman reported receiving $15,500 in campaign contributions from political action committees associated with the industry.

“We don’t have sugar in Hawaii anymore, but we still do have significant sugar interests throughout the country,” Case said. “Those interests are comfortable with my knowledge of the industry and want to support somebody that appreciates their issues.”

Disclosure Is His Priority

The fact that Case is so open about his support from the industry can feel like an anachronism in 2019.

Many of his Democratic colleagues — and particularly those running for president — boast of disavowing corporate PAC money and the influence of Washington lobbyists by refusing their campaign donations.

Case, meanwhile, received nearly all of his first quarter contributions from political action committees, many affiliated with major industries, such as sugar, defense, tourism and Walmart.

He also accepted a donation from a lobbyist who used to work as Case’s fundraising consultant the first time he was in Congress.

Case said one of the reasons his latest Federal Election Commission filing sticks out is because he wasn’t actively fundraising outside of Washington.

He was too busy getting his office up and running, he said, meaning much of the money that came his way was solicited by a consultant working for his campaign or through meetings with various interest groups whose views happen to align with his own.

“I completely believe in campaign finance and ethical reform, but I don’t believe that extends to no PAC money at all,” Case said.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Congressman Ed Case says he carefully vets the donations that come into his campaign.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The congressman is a proponent of H.R. 1, the first bill introduced by the new Democratic House majority that seeks to fight corruption in government and limit the power of money in politics through increased transparency and oversight.

Patrick Burgwinkle of End Citizens United says that while his organization encourages candidates to renounce corporate PAC money there are other avenues available for taking money out of the system.

“One way leaders can send a powerful message to voters about whose interests they will represent in Washington is to reject corporate PAC money,” Burgwinkle said. 

“Rep. Case is a strong supporter of the For The People Act and has demonstrated his commitment to making politics more transparent and responsive to the concerns of everyday residents of Hawaii.”

Case doesn’t subscribe to the perception that just because you accept money from someone — whether it’s an individual or a PAC — you’re automatically beholden to them.

“It’s interesting to me that a fair number of the candidates who disavow PAC money have already built up very large war chests that were funded in part by PAC money.” — Ed Case

He said his campaign is discerning when it comes to taking money. For instance, he said he won’t take contributions from organizations such as the National Rifle Association or any businesses associated with large pharmaceutical companies.

He also won’t take money from groups that do not disclose where their money is coming from. In essence, that’s his pledge against dark money.

“I’m celebrating my 25th year since I first ran for office in 1994 and I have received contributions throughout that period from a great variety of individuals and businesses and PACs, and I think my record of making my own decisions is pretty straight forward,” Case said.

“Of course any time you get a contribution from somebody there’s going to be somebody else out there who says you’re beholden to them, but that’s not the way I run my ship.”

Backing From Tribes

For the most part, Case said he knows who’s giving money to his campaign, and when it came to the PACs who donated to him in the first quarter he had conversations with most of them. 

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speech to Honolulu City Council.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president, was an early adopter of the pledge to renounce PAC money.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Unsolicited donations, of course, do raise red flags, he said, but that doesn’t always mean he’ll give the money back.

Case’s campaign received $2,000 from two PACs affiliated with American Indian tribes, the Chickasaw Nation and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The congressman said that money came to him unexpectedly but not unsurprisingly.

Although he hadn’t had any conversations with members of the tribes, he does sit on the House Natural Resources Committee and is a member of the subcommittee on indigenous people.

As someone who represents Native Hawaiians — who are also an indigenous group within the U.S. — the motivation behind the donations seemed to align with Case’s own interests, which meant he was OK hanging on to the money.

“It was clear to me that those are federally recognized tribes that simply want to maintain and improve their relationship with the United States and I was fine with that,” Case said. “I always ask who’s offering me money. If a check shows up and I don’t initially know anything about that organization or person I’m going to ask myself if I’m OK accepting that.”

Such perspective means Case has no plans to join his Democratic colleagues who make a big deal out of disavowing PAC money and blocking donations from lobbyists.

“Each member of Congress makes his or her own decisions about fundraising,” Case said. “It’s interesting to me that a fair number of the candidates who disavow PAC money have already built up very large war chests that were funded in part by PAC money.”

Case declined to name any specific politicians, but in the presidential field alone there are several Democratic candidates who have backed away from corporate PACs despite accepting the money from them in the past.

“I’m not going to speculate about what their motivations are or aren’t,” Case said. “I’m just running my own show and, frankly, I’m running my show the same way I’ve run it for a quarter century.”

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Poll: David Ige One Of Least Popular Governors In US https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/poll-david-ige-one-of-least-popular-governors-in-u-s/ Thu, 25 Apr 2019 19:48:23 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1329852 WASHINGTON — Morning Consult just released its first quarterly approval ratings of 2019 for U.S. governors and, well, it doesn’t look good for Hawaii Gov. David Ige. According to the poll, which surveys 5,000 registered voters across the country, Ige is one of the least popular governors in the country with an approval rating of […]

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WASHINGTON — Morning Consult just released its first quarterly approval ratings of 2019 for U.S. governors and, well, it doesn’t look good for Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

According to the poll, which surveys 5,000 registered voters across the country, Ige is one of the least popular governors in the country with an approval rating of 47% and a disapproval rating of 36%.

While that’s enough to put Ige in the bottom 10 it’s not enough to beat out Kentucky Gov. Matt Biven, a Republican, whose approval rating was 33% to 52% disapproval.

Still, Ige’s approval rating this quarter is an improvement from last year when he reached peak unpopularity after a false missile alert that sent shivers of fear throughout the islands.

At that time Ige’s approval rating was a whole 10 points lower to 37% while his disapproval was 49%.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, on the other hand, received some good news from the Morning Consult poll. His approval rating of 52% combined with a low disapproval of 25% put him in the top 10 among his peers.

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who’s running for president in 2020, was the poll’s most popular senator with 62% approval to 32% disapproval.

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono’s approval rating, meanwhile, dipped below 50% for the first time since 2017. The poll showed that 47% percent of registered voters approved of the job Hirono was doing while 34% disapproved.

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Indian Americans Are Big Donors To Gabbard Campaign https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/indian-americans-are-big-donors-to-gabbard-campaign/ Tue, 23 Apr 2019 10:01:31 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1329169 WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might not be able to compete in the money department with well-known presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but she does lead the pack in at least one category — donations from Indian Americans. A recent analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by AAPI Data found […]

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might not be able to compete in the money department with well-known presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but she does lead the pack in at least one category — donations from Indian Americans.

A recent analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by AAPI Data found that Gabbard raised $237,300 from Indian Americans in the first quarter of 2019.

That was more than any other declared Democratic presidential candidate who filed an FEC report by last week’s April 15 deadline. Cory Booker, the U.S. senator from New Jersey, came in second with $131,318 from Indian American donors, according to the AAPI Data analysis.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard pulls in a lot of campaign donations from the Indian American community.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

“What stood out to me quite a bit was that 44% of all the money Indian Americans gave went to Tulsi Gabbard, which is quite a bit,” said Sono Shah, researcher at AAPI Data who crunched the numbers.

“In terms of the other ethnic groups there weren’t that many that donated that large of a portion of their money to a single candidate.”

For instance, only 26 percent of Chinese donors gave their money to Andrew Yang, who received nearly 80 percent of his Asian contributions from Chinese Americans.

Many of the other candidates, particularly the major ones, had a more diverse distribution.

AAPI Data — a demographic research project  focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — found that both Gabbard and Booker did well with Asians in general.

The analysis found that Booker received $394,923 from Asians while Gabbard took in $390,155, which was enough to rank them No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among the 14 Democratic presidential candidates included in the study.

Shah warned that the statistical analysis, however, is not comprehensive and should be looked at as an estimate.

Shah used an ethnic surname methodology that’s often used in health and political science research. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau also uses a similar method to enforce fair lending laws.

The methodology does have its shortcomings, particularly when it comes to interracial marriages that result in name changes.

Another caveat in the data comes from FEC rules that only require candidates to disclose the names of donors who give $200 or more to an individual’s campaign. For Gabbard, that meant the analysis included less than $900,000 of the nearly $1.9 million she raised during the first quarter of 2019.

Of the nearly $390,155 Gabbard pulled in from Asian donors, nearly 60 percent came from the Indian American community, and mostly from donors living in California. 

By comparison, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s part Indian, raised $322,047 from Asian Americans, with only 22 percent coming from the Indian community.

Gabbard was the first Hindu elected to Congress in 2013. And while she’s not of Indian descent — she’s Samoan American — her ascendance to federal office resonated in the Indian community, both in the U.S. and abroad.

She took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, and then gave it as a gift to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a political strongman she’s defended and supported.

Gabbard’s fondness for Modi has not come without controversy, particularly as her campaign has benefitted from financial support of right-wing Hindu nationalists who some worry foment bigotry and violence against Muslims.

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Katherine Kealoha’s Grandmother, 99, Finally Gets To Tell Her Story https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/katherine-kealohas-grandmother-99-finally-gets-to-tell-her-story/ Fri, 19 Apr 2019 22:50:04 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1329049 It looks like 99-year-old Florence Puana will finally get the chance to testify against her own granddaughter Katherine Kealoha. Puana is scheduled for a deposition April 30 with federal prosecutors who have charged Kealoha with a series of crimes, some of which she’s accused of perpetrating against Puana and her son, Gerard, who is Kealoha’s […]

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It looks like 99-year-old Florence Puana will finally get the chance to testify against her own granddaughter Katherine Kealoha.

Puana is scheduled for a deposition April 30 with federal prosecutors who have charged Kealoha with a series of crimes, some of which she’s accused of perpetrating against Puana and her son, Gerard, who is Kealoha’s uncle.

The elder Puana recently fell ill and prosecutors said they wanted to memorialize her testimony in case she wasn’t available for Kealoha’s trial, which is scheduled to start next month.

Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor for Honolulu, is accused by the U.S. Justice Department of framing Gerard Puana for the theft of her mailbox.

She allegedly enlisted the help of her husband, former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and several of his officers — who also have been criminally charged — to help carry out the conspiracy.

According to the feds, the Kealohas wanted to silence Gerard Puana for filing a lawsuit against Katherine several months before the alleged mailbox theft that accused her of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from him and his mother.

The family spat has since led federal investigators to one of the largest public corruption scandals in Hawaii history.

In addition to the Kealohas, other public officials are the target of the Justice Department’s federal investigation, including Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kanehsiro and Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, who is a top-level appointee in Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s cabinet.

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Crypto Investor Tulsi Gabbard Backs Bill To Block SEC Oversight Of Crypto https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/crypto-investor-tulsi-gabbard-backs-bill-to-block-sec-oversight-of-crypto/ Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:28:00 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1328806 WASHINGTON — Perhaps U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is trying to protect her investment. The Hawaii congresswoman — who’s in the midst of a long-shot bid for president — signed on to legislation this month that would effectively block U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversight of cryptocurrency. Gabbard of course made headlines in 2018 when she […]

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WASHINGTON — Perhaps U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is trying to protect her investment.

The Hawaii congresswoman — who’s in the midst of a long-shot bid for president — signed on to legislation this month that would effectively block U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversight of cryptocurrency.

Gabbard of course made headlines in 2018 when she revealed in her financial disclosure filed with the House that she had purchased shares in both Litecoin and Ethereum, two blockchain currencies similar to Bitcoin.

Unfortunately for Gabbard, her purchases of the two cryptocurrencies — each ranging from $1,001 and $15,000 — came at the height of the market and plummeted shortly thereafter.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announces her run for president at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard invested in cryptocurrency at exactly the wrong time.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

According to Roll Call, the bill Gabbard endorsed is backed by the blockchain industry. But there are still some who are concerned that the lack of SEC oversight could let bad actors off the hook.

The bill’s main sponsor, however, says it’s the lack of regulation that will allow the technology to thrive in the U.S. so that competitors such as China don’t dominate the market.

“Without it, the U.S. is surrendering its innovation origins and ownership of the digital economy to Europe and Asia,” Republican Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio said in a statement announcing the introduction of his Token Taxonomy Act.

“In the early days of the internet, Congress passed legislation that provided certainty and resisted the temptation to over-regulate the market. Our intent is to achieve a similar win for America’s economy and for American leadership in this innovative space.”

Gabbard’s own statement at the time was similarly optimistic.

“In Hawai’i and across America, local and state leaders are looking at the potential for blockchain technology to create and expand economic opportunity,” Gabbard said.

The Token Taxonomy Act, she added, will not only protect investors and foster innovation, but promote new business opportunities that “allow more diverse districts like mine to have greater security when participating in the digital economy.”

Gabbard’s stake is more than personal. It’s a new part of her day job, at least when she’s not too busy traveling the country and running for president.

This year after Democrats reclaimed control of the House she was re-appointed from the Foreign Relations Committee to Financial Services, which is led by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

That means Gabbard will be involved in more oversight of the banking industry in general and — with Waters as chair — investigations into President Donald Trump’s own financial dealings.

In February, the congresswoman even put out a call for applications so she could hire a new deputy chief of staff, one she preferred would have a strong background in communications and finance.

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Hawaii Rep. Ed Case Raised 99% Of Campaign Money From PACs https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/hawaii-rep-ed-case-raised-99-percent-of-campaign-money-from-pacs/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 21:31:45 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328402 WASHINGTON — Of all the people donating to U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s 2020 congressional campaign there’s one name that sticks out. In fact, it’s the only name — Paul DiNino. Case reported in his latest Federal Election Commission filing on Monday that he only raised $475 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2019, and […]

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WASHINGTON — Of all the people donating to U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s 2020 congressional campaign there’s one name that sticks out.

In fact, it’s the only name — Paul DiNino.

Case reported in his latest Federal Election Commission filing on Monday that he only raised $475 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2019, and that $250 of it came from DiNino, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who used to work for retired Democratic senator Harry Reid.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Congressman Ed Case talks to his constituents during a “Talk Story” event at Campbell High School in Honolulu.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The remaining $225 came from individual donors who gave Case less than $200 each, meaning FEC rules didn’t require disclosure of their identities.

Still, Case was able to raise nearly $78,000 during the first three months of the year.

Almost all of that money — 99.4% — came from political action committees.

In 2018, Case raised nearly $564,000 in his bid for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. At the time, only $74,000 came from PACs. He also loaned his campaign more than $151,000.

Some of the industries donating to Case’s 2020 campaign include those affiliated with hotels and tourism, such as Marriott International, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and Hilton Worldwide, and those with interests in sugar.

Case’s top two PAC donors — which each gave $10,000 to his campaign — were the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the American Hotel & Lodging Association PAC.

Case, who is on the House Appropriations and Natural Resources committees, is a former executive with Outrigger Enterprises, which is a top operator in Hawaii’s $18 billion tourism industry.

Two of Case’s Democratic House colleagues, Ted Lieu of California, and Bill Foster of Florida, gave money to the congressman’s 2020 re-election bid. So too did the Blue Dog PAC and the New Democrat Coalition.

Case also received thousands of dollars from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America PAC and the National Beer Wholesalers Association as well as from committees associated with defense contractors, such as General Dynamics, Honeywell International and Raytheon Company.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono doesn’t have to worry about another election until 2024.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Other companies whose PACs are giving to Case include Walmart and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Case’s PAC donor list also includes the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Chickasaw Nation. As a congressman, Case promised to fight for the rights of Native Hawaiians.

Case’s fundraising, of course, pales in comparison to his Hawaii colleague, Tulsi Gabbard, who’s putting her congressional bid on pause while she runs for president.

Gabbard reported raising more than $1.9 million during the first three months of 2019.

Hawaii’s senators, meanwhile, had relatively low-key fundraising quarters, according to FEC reports that were also filed Monday. Neither is up for election in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who’s become a Democratic lightning rod since President Donald Trump took office, raised just over $58,000 in the quarter.

Hirono, who is 71 years old, easily secured a new six-year term in the Senate in 2018, which means she won’t be up for election until 2024, when she’ll be 77.

She reported having nearly $1 million in cash left over at the end of the reporting period.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s campaign reported raising more than $33,000 in the quarter. Schatz, who isn’t up for election until 2022, has more than $2.6 million in the bank.

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Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Raises $1.9 Million In Bid For White House https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/hawaii-rep-tulsi-gabbard-raises-1-9-million-in-bid-for-white-house/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:42:17 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328341 WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign reported raising $1.95 million during the first quarter of 2019, placing her well behind the rest of the Democratic field that includes heavyweights like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. Even South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg out-raised Gabbard, pulling in a reported $7.1 million. Monday […]

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign reported raising $1.95 million during the first quarter of 2019, placing her well behind the rest of the Democratic field that includes heavyweights like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.

Even South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg out-raised Gabbard, pulling in a reported $7.1 million.

Monday was the filing deadline for presidential candidates to report how much money they’d raised and spent in the first quarter of 2019.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announces her run for president at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard raised nearly $2 million for her presidential campaign.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

And while many shared their numbers before the actual reports came due to the Federal Election Commission, the Hawaii congresswoman played hers close to the vest.

The FEC reports show Gabbard raised just over $1 million from small donors giving less than $200. Much of the rest — about $882,000 — came from itemized donations of $200 and above, meaning contributors would have to share their names and business affiliations.

Both of Gabbard’s parents, Mike and Carol Gabbard, gave their daughter $2,800, which is the maximum contribution for the primary.

Gabbard also transferred $2.5 million into her presidential account from her congressional campaign committee.

The FEC reports show Gabbard spent about $1.2 million on the things one might expect of a presidential candidate — travel and hotel expenses in early primary and caucus states, such as New Hampshire and Iowa, campaign management services and advertising.

Gabbard also paid her husband, Abraham Williams, who is her campaign videographer, about $1,800 for his services.

The FEC reports show Gabbard had nearly $2.8 million in cash on hand at the close of the reporting period March 31.

Gabbard’s campaign treasurer and spokeswoman Erika Tsuji did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment.

Gabbard kicked off her presidential campaign with nearly $2 million cash in her congressional campaign account.

That money was left over from her ambitious fundraising efforts in the years following her first election to Congress in 2012.

In the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles, Gabbard pumped millions of dollars into her war chest despite the fact she didn’t face any serious challenges from other Democrats or Republicans.

The congresswoman also spent large sums of money despite the dearth of electoral competition. Those efforts allowed her to expand her fundraising base and craft the well-curated image she’s now presenting on the national stage.

Still, Gabbard, 37, has struggled to find her way in a field that could include upwards of 20 candidates, many of whom have higher profiles, deeper pockets and longer resumes.

Gabbard has campaigned largely on the need to pull the U.S. out of what she describes as regime-change wars so that the country can start spending that money on domestic issues, such as Medicare-for-all.

She’s also had to apologize for her past virulent views about the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage as well as answer for her secret trip to Syria, where she met with the country’s president Bashar al-Assad, who many consider a war criminal.

Even the official launch of her campaign started with a sputter as she parted ways with two of her top consultants just as she announced her candidacy.

Gabbard, however, persevered and earlier this month announced she received enough donations to qualify for the Democratic debate stage in June.

‘I’m Not Afraid To Take On Anyone’

Last week, Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot as well as a major in the Hawaii Air National Guard, boasted of raising $250,000 from 3,231 donors in the first quarter of 2019.

By any measure that’s an impressive haul for a first-time federal candidate who could be challenging one of the state’s most popular politicians if she abandons her presidential bid and runs for her own seat again.

But Kahele says he could have done better if he’d kicked off his candidacy sooner.

“We officially launched on Jan. 21, and if I had those 21 days back I think it could have been $300,000,” Kahele said.

Chair Kai Kahele gestures during water rights hearing with left, Ways and Means chair Donovan.

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele feels good about how much money he’s raised so far in his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Much of Kahele’s money — about $195,000 — came from donors giving his campaign more than $200, meaning their names, address and business affiliations are listed in the reports.

Kahele also received $8,700 from three political action committees, including the Hawaiian Airlines PAC.

Other PACs contributing to Kahele’s campaign are those affiliated with the Bank of Hawaii and Service Corporation International, which provides funeral and cemetery services.

Gabbard said she swore off PAC contributions in 2017, something that has become en vogue, especially among progressive Democrats running for president.

What the FEC filings make clear is that Kahele is picking up support — at least financially — from some of the state’s most influential business leaders and power brokers.

Kahele is already endorsed by former Hawaii governors John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie, all of whom are honorary co-chairs of his campaign.

Among his donors are developer Stanford Carr, shipping magnate George Pasha, of the Pasha Group, and Alicia Moi, president and CEO of Hawaii Gas.

Top lobbyists, including George “Red” Morris, John Radcliffe, Bruce Coppa, Melissa Pavlicek and Blake Oshiro, whose firm Capital Consultants of Hawaii is a mainstay in island politics, are also on the donor list. 

Other notable names are Walter Dods and Crystal Rose. Dods is the former chairman of First Hawaiian Bank and was U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye’s campaign chairman. Rose, meanwhile, is a real estate lawyer, and trusted campaign advisor for U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

Leaders in the Native Hawaiian community have also thrown their support behind Kahele, who is part-Native Hawaiian.

Three current Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, Lei Ahu Isa, Robert Lindsey and Colette Machado, have donated to his campaign, as have two past members, Peter Apo and Oswald Stender.

A handful of local politicians have also given Kahele money, including state Sen. Michelle Kidani, Rep. Chris Todd and Hawaii County Councilman Aaron Chung.

Kahele says he’s appreciative of all the support and hopes that it leads to an even better financial showing in the next fundraising quarter.

He said at this point he considers himself the only person in the race for the Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District because Gabbard has been busy running for president. He added that she’s also appeared “noncommittal” when pressed about her future plans for the seat.

“I’m definitely not afraid to take on anyone who desires to serve the district,” Kahele said. “I know my sole focus is going to be representing the people of CD2 in Congress. It’s not going to be running across the country and trying to get on the national news networks.”

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Coming To A Democratic Debate Stage Near You — Tulsi Gabbard https://www.civilbeat.org/beat/coming-to-a-democratic-debate-stage-near-you-tulsi-gabbard/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 23:00:49 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?post_type=beat&p=1327397 WASHINGTON — It took awhile, but U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard finally hit her goal of 65,000 donors, enough to put her on the Democratic presidential debate stage come June. The Hawaii congresswoman announced the achievement Wednesday via a campaign email. The Democratic National Committee had set the 65,000 donor threshold as a means to weed […]

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WASHINGTON — It took awhile, but U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard finally hit her goal of 65,000 donors, enough to put her on the Democratic presidential debate stage come June.

The Hawaii congresswoman announced the achievement Wednesday via a campaign email.

The Democratic National Committee had set the 65,000 donor threshold as a means to weed out the large number of candidates with dreams of settling into the White House.

Gabbard’s announcement, however, did not say how much money she raised in the first quarter of 2019. She has until Monday to submit the numbers to the Federal Election Commission.

Other candidates in the Democratic presidential field have already shared their fundraising hauls from the first three months of 2019.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s an early frontrunner, said he raised $18.2 million while Kamala Harris, his Senate colleague from California, says she pulled in $12 million.

Other candidates who have released figures include Beto O’Rourke ($9.4 million), Peter Buttigieg ($7 million), Amy Klobuchar ($5.2 million), Cory Booker ($5 million) and Andrew Yang ($1.7 million).

One thing to watch is how Gabbard fares on a presidential debate stage.

In 2016, the congresswoman was critical of then-Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbit Wasserman-Schulz for not scheduling more presidential debates. At the time Gabbard was a vice chair of the DNC, which meant her comments got a lot of air time.

But her criticism was curious when put into context. Gabbard herself is a notorious debate dodger. The congresswoman hasn’t debated a single opponent, Democrat or Republican, ever since she was elected to Congress in 2012.

A Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll during the 2018 election found Gabbard’s refusal to debate her opponents doesn’t sit well with voters. Three-out-of-four respondents said she has an obligation to engage.

The post Coming To A Democratic Debate Stage Near You — Tulsi Gabbard appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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Honolulu Police Corruption: ‘Don’t Try To BS’ The Judge https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/honolulu-police-corruption-dont-try-to-bs-the-judge/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 10:01:13 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327209 With just a few words, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright put the lawyers in his courtroom on notice. “We need to be honest and have some integrity here,” he said. It was Nov. 8, 2017, and Seabright was conducting his first status conference in what is expected to be one of the highest […]

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With just a few words, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright put the lawyers in his courtroom on notice.

“We need to be honest and have some integrity here,” he said.

It was Nov. 8, 2017, and Seabright was conducting his first status conference in what is expected to be one of the highest profile cases of his judicial career.

It’s also the biggest public corruption case in Hawaii history. And as a May 13 trial date approaches, Seabright is finding himself more and more in the headlines as rulings are made on how best to ensure fairness and an orderly process.

Whether it’s the decision to hold jury selection at the Blaisdell Center — 400 prospective jurors are expected — or to let prosecutors depose a 99-year-old woman in case she’s too sick to make it to the trial, Seabright is becoming a central character in the legal theater playing out in Honolulu.

Silhouettes of Ex HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and wife Katherine Kealoha at District Court.

Louis and Katherine Kealoha are at the center of a federal investigation into public corruption in Hawaii.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In October 2017, just three weeks before Seabright admonished attorneys about honesty and integrity, Honolulu’s former police chief, Louis Kealoha, was indicted along with four of his officers, Derek Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Daniel Sellers and Gordon Shiraishi, for trying to frame his wife’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of a mailbox.

Louis Kealoha’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, a city prosecutor, was also charged in the conspiracy.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Kealohas wanted to discredit Puana after he filed a lawsuit against Katherine that threatened to expose their financial crimes.

Katherine Kealoha was accused of bilking her uncle and grandmother, Florence Puana, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was also charged with stealing nearly $150,000 from two children she had guardianship over when they were minors.

The Kealohas were additionally charged with identity theft and bank fraud, crimes they committed, prosecutors said, so that they could maintain a lavish lifestyle beyond their public servant means.

Seabright’s comments were directed at one of the Kealohas’ defense attorneys, Kevin Sumida, who was trying to wriggle free of defending his clients any further because they didn’t have the money to pay him.

“He’s going to know the case backwards and forwards.” — William Shipley

Sumida presented inaccurate information in his motion to remove himself from the case, saying the government froze the Kealohas’ assets and had blocked them from getting a loan. But Seabright wasn’t having it. He said the Kealohas could apply for a loan if they wanted to, but that they just hadn’t tried.

“Maybe you should read the bond before you write something,” Seabright told Sumida.

It wasn’t the only warning the judge issued that day. Seabright also dismissed any notions of the defense lawyers trying to push the trial date beyond 2020, saying at the time that even 2019 would be pushing it.

“My ultimate goal will be to engage in some pretty active management in this case,” he said.

What Seabright wanted to make clear was that the courtroom was his and that both sides — the defense and the prosecution — would play by his rules.

‘Don’t Try To BS Him’

Seabright was nominated to the federal bench in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush. He was confirmed with a 98-0 vote in the U.S. Senate.

Prior to that he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for nearly 18 years, first in Washington, D.C., and then in Hawaii, where he rose to the rank of supervisor.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright

Submitted

He did his undergraduate studies at Tulane University in New Orleans and attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Seabright became the Hawaii district’s chief judge in November 2015 when Susan Oki Mollway went on senior status.

Over the years, Seabright has gained a reputation for running an efficient courtroom and being a stickler for procedure.

In the Almanac for the Federal Judiciary — a compendium of profiles for all federal judges throughout the U.S. — the general consensus among lawyers who know him is that Seabright is intelligent, fair and equipped with “outstanding legal ability.”

But their words also came with a note of caution: “Be prepared and don’t try to B.S. him.”

“In my mind you can’t ask for much more in a judge,” said Michael Kawahara, who retired from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2015. 

“There are judges with different judicial philosophies, but when you have a judge who is organized and in charge of things in his courtroom and he’s giving both sides their day in court you can’t ask for very much more.”

Fighting Organized Crime

Seabright’s background as an assistant U.S. attorney shapes his approach in the courtroom and not in the way one might expect.

He tends to go hard on prosecutors because he understands the advantages they have over the people they’re trying to put behind bars.

The U.S. Justice Department has nearly unlimited resources to investigate a crime.

Prosecutors can harness the power of the FBI and other government agencies, including the DEA, ATF and IRS, to help make their case. They can spend weeks, months and even years investigating a suspect before ever filing charges.

Prosecutors can subpoena records, force people who don’t want to talk to testify before a grand jury and even tap a target’s cell phone. They often don’t bring charges until they’re almost absolutely certain.

In short, there’s a reason the U.S. government has a conviction rate north of 90 percent.

“Judge Seabright is so demanding of prosecutors because he has such high expectations,” said William Shipley, a Honolulu defense lawyer who used to work with Seabright in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “He doesn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Federal prosecutors can tap the FBI to help them make a case.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

When Shipley got the call in 2002 that he’d been hired to work as an assistant U.S. attorney in Hawaii, it was Seabright, his future supervisor, on the other end of the line.

At the time, Shipley was prosecuting high profile drug cases in California, mostly involving methamphetamine. In Hawaii, he would be joining Seabright’s team of prosecutors who wanted to crack down on white collar and organized crime.

Seabright was a methodical prosecutor, Shipley said, and he was always brainstorming with the other attorneys in the office on how best to pursue complex prosecutions.

“These types of crimes involve an enterprising approach,” Shipley said. “You have to unwind them and he was good at that. He liked that.”

He’ll Know It ‘Backwards And Forwards’

Some of Seabright’s biggest cases involved public corruption in Hawaii government.

Early in his career he won the conviction of former House Speaker Daniel Kihano for money laundering, obstruction of justice and filing false tax returns based on his diversion of $27,000 in campaign funds to personal use.

According to news reports, it was the first time in Hawaii that federal prosecutors tried a criminal case based on violations of campaign spending laws.

Seabright also prosecuted Milton Holt, a Harvard-educated state senator who, like Kihano, was using his campaign funds for personal use.

A few years later, in 2001, Seabright took on another local lawmaker, Honolulu City Councilman Andy Mirikitani, for using his office’s funds in a kickback scheme to pump more money into his own campaign coffers.

While some judges might seek to place their fingers on the scales, Seabright studies the weights.

Mirikitani was charged with a series of felonies, including extortion, bribery and wire fraud. He was eventually sentenced to more than four years in federal prison.

At the time, Seabright said Mirikitani got what he deserved because he “arrogantly manipulated the public trust.”

Shipley expects Seabright to bring his experiences prosecuting such cases into the courtroom when the Kealohas and their co-defendants stand trial.

While it’s a complex case — one that involves a lot of defendants, several indictments and an ongoing grand jury investigation that could bring more charges — Shipley said he has no doubt Seabright will maintain his order.

“He’s going to know the case backwards and forwards,” Shipley said. “There are going to be no facts that come out either from the witness stand or in the exhibits that will surprise him.”

‘Judicially Conservative’

As a judge, Seabright has presided over a number of headline-grabbing cases, from the trial and sentencing of a famed Hawaii kickboxer to the first and only death penalty case in the state since capital punishment was abolished in 1957.

(The death penalty case involved a former soldier who killed his 5-year-old daughter on military property, which under federal law, allowed for capital punishment despite Hawaii’s ban.)

Lawyers who have argued before him say he doesn’t walk into the courtroom with a preconceived notion about how he might rule.

Instead, he’d rather let both sides duke it out before coming to a final decision.

Seabright also doesn’t display the kind of ideological bent one might suspect in today’s polarized environment, given that federal judges are political appointees.

While some judges might seek to place their fingers on the scales, Seabright studies the weights.

Brian Black is the executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that works for transparency in government.

If anything, Black said, Seabright skews “judicially conservative,” meaning he’s not looking to be an activist from the bench making new laws, particularly when it comes to sensitive matters such as national security and personal privacy.

R Brian Black Executive Director Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest testifies during charter commission meeting at Honolulu Hale.

Brian Black is an advocate for more government transparency and better access to public records.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“He doesn’t want to swing the pendulum far one way or the other,” Black said.

In 2016, for instance, Black sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its refusal to release inspection reports that found “widespread regulatory noncompliance” at the University of Hawaii’s laboratories that used specific biological agents and toxins.

Among the CDC’s arguments for withholding the records was that any release could lead to someone stealing the toxins and creating a biological weapon to kill people.

Black said Seabright often deferred to the government’s assertions for keeping the documents confidential rather than press the CDC on whether the need for secrecy was warranted.

Ultimately, Seabright agreed to allow the CDC to heavily redact the documents, a decision that is now being reviewed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still, Black said Seabright weighed the arguments and in general is open to being persuaded.

In the Kealoha case, for instance, Black sought to have records unsealed that showed, among other things, how Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, tried to have her client declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

Seabright initially approved of the sealings, but reversed course after Black’s challenge.

While he didn’t release all the records Black sought, Seabright did make a substantial number available to the public.

“That’s a reflection of what judges are supposed to do,” Black said. “Which is to take their jobs seriously and really try to find the right path.”

‘Pleasant, Polite And To The Point’

Seabright has already made a number of consequential rulings in the Kealoha case.

Last May, he granted a defense motion to divide the charges into two clumps, one involving the allegations related to the mailbox conspiracy and cover-up, and a second focusing on the Kealaohas’ alleged financial crimes.

He also granted a recent request from Katherine Kealoha to delay the mailbox trial until mid-May so that she could receive treatment for cancer.

The government had tried to block Kealoha’s request for continuance, arguing among other things, that she had a history of faking illnesses.

“In the end, I don’t think you’ll see anybody complaining about the judge in this case.” — Gary Modafferi

And while Seabright’s decision to divide the charges into two trials is seen as a boon for the defendants, he recently allowed the government to introduce evidence of the financial crimes into the mailbox case to help prove the motive behind the alleged framing of Gerard Puana.

He also is allowing federal prosecutors to take a video deposition of Puana’s 99-year-old mother, Florence, who suffers from a heart condition.

Florence Puana is a key witness in the case as well as an alleged victim. Prosecutors worry the government would lose an important witness if she is unable to testify at trial, either in person or via video deposition.

Attorney Gary Modafferi and Kevin Sumida leave District Court. Katherine Kealoha is at left.

Gary Modafferi, center, says he expects Seabright to run a fair trial.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Gary Modaferri is a Las Vegas defense attorney who used to practice in Hawaii. He briefly represented Louis Kealoha in the mailbox case, and was in the room the day Seabright scolded Sumida, a scenario in which he said the judge was “100 percent right.”

Modafferi has known Seabright for years, and the two used to argue cases against one another when Seabright was still a federal prosecutor.

He said he’s watched the Kealoha case from afar and finds the way Seabright to be acting just as he remembered him when they were adversaries — “He’s pleasant, polite and to the point.”

Modafferi said it was clear from that first hearing in November 2017 that Seabright was going to be hands on without being overbearing. As always he would be open to arguments, but he wouldn’t bend too far. Modafferi said there’s too much at stake.

“He understands the importance of this case to the community, to the defendants and to everybody involved,” Modafferi said. “You can expect to see this case move forward quickly, deliberately and fairly.

“In the end, I don’t think you’ll see anybody complaining about the judge in this case.”

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

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Sen. Kai Kahele Says He’s Raised $250,000 To Challenge Tulsi Gabbard https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/sen-kai-kahele-says-hes-raised-250000-to-challenge-tulsi-gabbard/ Tue, 09 Apr 2019 00:40:10 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327093 WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign announced Monday that he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of the year in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president but could also simultaneously seek re-election. Kahele said the money came from 3,231 donors, which averages just over $77 […]

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WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign announced Monday that he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of the year in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president but could also simultaneously seek re-election.

Kahele said the money came from 3,231 donors, which averages just over $77 per contribution.

The press release didn’t include any details about who has donated to Kahele’s campaign or what he has spent.

Sen Chair Kai Kahele asks State Auditor Les Kondo about a possible Mauna Kea/TMT audit.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, who plans to run for Congress next year, says he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of 2019.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The last day of the fundraising quarter was March 31 and Federal Election Commission rules give candidates until April 15 to file their paperwork.

Kahele could not be reached for comment Monday, but in his press release he said he expects his campaign to develop into one of the largest grassroots fundraising efforts in the state as he seeks the 2nd Congressional District seat covering rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.

“I look forward to continuing my travels across the district and hearing directly from the people on what their concerns are and how I can best represent them in Washington, D.C.,” Kahele said. “If elected, being their voice in Congress will be my sole focus and number one priority.”

The 41-year-old Kahele will likely need all the money he can get if he has any hope of unseating Gabbard, who consistently polls as one of the state’s most popular politicians.

Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and member of the Hawaii Air National Guard, has already received significant backing from several of Hawaii’s former governors, including John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie.

All three serve as honorary co-chairs of his campaign committee.

Gabbard, meanwhile, is engaged in her long-shot presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaks during the 2018 Hawaii Democratic Convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa in Kona, Hawaii.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for president, but she could also run for re-election to Congress.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She has not released any details about how much money she’s raised.

Gabbard has been focusing on meeting the 65,000-donor threshold the Democratic National Committee said is necessary to qualify for the presidential debate stage of the primary campaign.

A campaign email sent out Monday said she was 653 donors away from hitting that mark.

Kahele’s reported haul compares favorably to Gabbard’s previous election cycle numbers when she wasn’t a presidential candidate.

For example in the first quarter of 2017, FEC records show Gabbard raised nearly $167,000. Over the course of the last two-year cycle she raised a total of about $1.4 million.

Gabbard’s fundraising haul came in a year in which she didn’t face a significant challenge to her re-election. In fact, she has largely coasted ever since she was elected to Congress in 2012.

Still, she has been able to build a large base of donors from around the country. When she kicked off her presidential campaign, she had about $2 million in her account.

Erika Tsuji, a spokeswoman for Gabbard’s campaign, did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment about Kahele’s announcement.

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