A Honolulu political action committee has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into three Hawaii County Council campaigns, in each case eclipsing the money the candidates were able to raise on their own.
Forward Progress is a super PAC formed July 11 by the same group in charge of the recently terminated Pacific Resource Partnership. Both groups get their funding from Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program, a pro-construction PAC.
Candidates feeling pushed out by the off-island campaign blitz are questioning why Honolulu PACs care so much about Hawaii County Council races.
District 6 council candidate Richard Abbett lists a proposed waste-to-energy garbage incinerator, an undersea power pipeline to the much more populous Oahu and even a possible massive solar array as projects that could benefit Oahu at the expense of Hawaii Island.
“Honolulu sees our island as a resource, and they’re trying to buy us as a council,” Abbett said.
Forward Progress reported to the state Campaign Spending Commission on Wednesday that as of July 25, it has spent $63,404 on campaign materials for District 9 candidate Ron Gonzales, District 6 candidate Maile David and District 5 candidate Tiffany Edwards Hunt.
That’s in addition to the $3,484 PRP spent on the same three candidates before terminating its super PAC status earlier this year. The three candidates themselves have reported a combined total of only $37,214 in their own campaigns.
PRP came under investigation last month by the Campaign Spending Commission after settling a defamation lawsuit filed by former governor and Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano.
Forward Progress has also spent, but not yet reported, an estimated $18,590 on mailers and an unknown amount in radio commercials on a negative campaign targeting incumbent District 9 Councilwoman Margaret Wille, judging by the three anti-Wille mailers that have already been received in her district and radio commercials on the air.
Wille, stunned by the negative advertising coming out of Honolulu, compared her plight to that of Cayetano, who was leading the race but was torpedoed by false negative advertising, resulting in the successful libel suit.
The three anti-Wille mailers, along with negative radio spots, accuse the first-term incumbent of raising council members’ salaries while cutting salaries for staff, ending free bus rides for students, seniors and those with disabilities and raising the cost of food.
“Their thing is to ‘get who we want elected and then we’ll deal with the cleanup,’ I think that’s their style,” Wille said. “Hopefully the people will see through all this. Do they want Honolulu driving our county government?”
Wille said she expects money to be coming from genetically modified organism advocates, because of her bill regulating GMOs on the island. She said her push to look at alternatives to mass-burn incinerators is probably also motivating the attack ads.
Gonzales, the largest beneficiary of Forward Progress assistance, said he was unaware of the mailers promoting him and slamming Wille until he started receiving them. The mailers promoting him showcase his military background and deep roots on the island.
“I continue to maintain I am running a clean campaign,” Gonzales said. “Whoever is doing that is unrelated to me or to my campaign.”
Unlike traditional PACs that are limited to $2,000 per council candidate, super PACs can raise and spend an unlimited amount for and against candidates, as long as they don’t coordinate their campaigns with the candidates.
Campaign mailers for Hunt and David had almost identical wording, with only their photos and names changed. The mailer states, in part, on the County Council, they will “work with Mayor (Billy) Kenoi” to protect farmers, invest in renewable energy and improve transportation by adding new buses to reduce traffic.
Hunt, the apparent leader in a seven-way contest for the vacant District 5 seat, insists that she’ll continue to be an independent voice if she gets elected to the council. She said she also opposes a mass-burn incinerator, and she supported Wille in her quest to regulate GMOs.
“The suggestion that I’m going to be working with Billy like we’re in lockstep together … they’re wrong if they think that,” Hunt said.
David said she was surprised to find the fliers in her mailbox. David, who has successfully sued to force state and county agencies to do their mandated duty to protect the island’s environment and culture, said she’s relying on her own experience.
“It doesn’t deter me from what my passion is, and that’s protecting this beautiful land,” David said. “I just stand on my own achievements of what I’ve done for this community, and I’m proud of that. I’ve spent my life doing this.”
Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program is a $6.9 million nonprofit whose goal is “To study and explore ways of eliminating potential problems that inhibit the economic development of the carpentry industry in Hawaii,” according to its federal tax filings. A call to its Honolulu office was answered by an automated system identifying the office as Pacific Resource Partnership.
John White, listed on disclosure reports filed with the Campaign Spending Commission as chairman of both PRP and Forward Progress, did not return telephone messages at any of the offices by press time Thursday.