HILO — Mayor Billy Kenoi has so far spent almost half a million dollars to hold onto Hawaii County’s top office, a full $135,911 more than he spent campaigning for what was then an open seat in the 2008 primary election.
Kenoi spent $474,302 as of July 27, according to reports filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission. He reported an infusion of $61,435 in contributions in July, bringing his total receipts, including cash on hand at the beginning of the election cycle, to $493,202.
In contrast, Kenoi’s two major primary opponents are pinching their limited pennies, with County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong spending $25,159 and former Mayor Harry Kim spending $3,563 so far for the campaign.
Yagong received $5,672 in contributions during July, bringing his total to $28,859, and Kim received $2,005, bringing his total to $8,425, according to their reports.
Just two weeks before the Aug. 11 primary, the July 27 reports showed Kenoi with $18,899 in his coffers to make that final push, while Yagong had a $3,370 deficit and Kim had a $3,307 deficit.
Kenoi justified his continued contributions and expenditures as an indication of the job contributors think he is doing as mayor and a way to get his message out.
“I’m very humbled and thankful for the support,” Kenoi said. “From $10 to $1,000, every contribution is a show of support and belief in our campaign, in good government and in our leadership.”
Last month, 7.4 percent of Kenoi’s contributions came in donations of $100 or less, compared to 3.5 percent for the entire campaign. As of June 30, slightly more than half of all Kenoi’s contributions over $100 came from off-island, including from $1,000-per-plate fundraisers in Honolulu.
Almost half, 45.7 percent, of Yagong’s contributions last month were $100 or less, compared to 44.3 percent for the campaign. Yagong said he’s satisfied with the pace of his contributions, and added he’s been holding $5-per-plate fundraisers around the island, including one set for Aug. 8 at the Old Kona Airport park.
“It’s nice being able to make decisions without being obligated to special interest money,” Yagong said. “Money can buy you a lot of signs and allow you to give away $25 Willie K concert tickets. It cannot buy you public trust or personal credibility.”
Kim isn’t accepting any contributions over $10, a campaign rule he started during his prior successful runs for mayor.
“We all have a strategy, we have a budget and we decide independently how we spend the money, big or small,” Kim said. “When I first ran I did the same thing. I basically run the same kind of campaign.”
Kim said he doesn’t like to comment on other races, but he added, “I guess they feel it’s necessary because they spend so much.”
The vast majority of Kim’s money is going into radio, where island listeners are likely to remember his voice as that of the director of Civil Defense before he became mayor in 2000.
Yagong’s expense report shows expenses for fundraisers and community meetings, with campaign signs and some newspaper advertising making up the balance.
Expenses for Kenoi last month included $13,611.50 for a poll from Solutions Pacific LLC. Other polls have also been conducted on behalf of unions and interest groups on the island, but none of the results have been made available.
Kenoi, as he’s done with past polling, declined to talk about the results of his voter surveys.
“We want everyone to go out to the polls and vote,” Kenoi said, “and not get complacent and not think the election is in the bag.”