How to Buy an Election on Maui Almost $1 million from pro-development interests has been raised to defeat three progressive Council candidates

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As part of a broad effort to reverse progressive legislation introduced by the current Ohana member-dominated Maui County Council, a new record has been set for the amount of money donated by an Oahu-based organization to buy three Council seats and a pro-development majority in the coming election.

A mind-blowing total of almost one million dollars ($950,000) has now been spent to defeat three Maui County progressive candidates.

“I imagine that amount of money would make it hard to remain neutral when making government decisions, no matter how altruistic at the start,” said Nara Boone, who is campaigning for the Makawao-Haiku-Paia County Council seat. “This isn’t a personal attack, it’s just a fact. That’s one of the many reasons I signed the Our Hawaii Pledge to not accept donations over $100 from developers, corporations or large landholders. I didn’t want to be beholden to them, or for them to even think it was a possibility they could swing my vote their way.”

The flood of development connected donors have, most prominently, flowed to the South Maui, Makawao-Haiku-Paia and Moloka‘i district  campaigns of general contractor Tom Cook, Nohelani U’u-Hodgins, who works for F&W Land LLC, and luxury condo manager John Pele.

“This is what happens when you anger very powerful interests that have a lot of financial resources,” Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii, told Civil Beat. “They’re going to back your opponents.”

“Big money makes Hawaii elections look more like auctions” proclaimed a headline in The Honolulu Star Advertiser on October 30, noting: “Donors led by developers, contractors, lawyers, lobbyists and business execs purchased influence by giving some $20 million to Hawaii political candidates so far this election.”

The avalanche of pro-development contributions was earlier revealed in a report by Our Hawaiʻi Action which indicated that almost three out of four of every dollar raised (74.93%) by Tom Cook came from real estate and development interests, and 43% of his campaign’s total funding came from outside of Maui County.

In stark contrast, Cook’s ‘Onipa’a 2022 opponent for the South Maui seat, Robin Knox, is 93% funded by Maui County residents, and received no money from PACs, developers, or hotels.

Looking at the Makawao-Haiku-Paia County Council seat, Nohelani U’u-Hodgins’  donors constitute a “who’s who” of developers across Maui and Hawaiʻi. Real estate, development, and construction make up more than 65% of the $161,000 raised so far.

This is eight times the amount raised by her opponent, ‘Onipa’a 2022 candidate Nara Boone, who has received close to 100% of donations from Maui County and accepted no donations from PACs, real estate developers, or hotel conglomerates.

By October 24, developer backed candidate Cook had raised $143,000 compared to Knox’s $39,436, while Pele raised $141,000 compared to Rawlins-Fernandez’s $17,675.

“This astronomical in-pouring of donations from big money interests is a repeat of Hawai‘i’s sad history,” said Nara Boone. “A history where money talks and ‘The People’s’ voices go unheard. We can’t let that happen again. We can’t go backwards. This is dire. Our quality of life, the protection of our water, our land, our people’s lives-depend on it. We must vote for candidates who have our best interests at heart.”

In addition to what candidates received in their own candidate committee coffers, Be Change Now, a super PAC backed by the carpenters union, spent around $550,000 so far on Maui County Council candidates U’u-Hodgins, Cook, and Pele.

It was the Hawaii Carpenters Union who poured $2 million into a campaign  to defeat Rep. Sylvia Luke in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, because, as House finance chair, she refused to increase taxes by permanently extending the 0.5% excise tax surcharge for the Honolulu rail project.

Among Cook’s prominent supporters are Larry Ellison’s Lanai Resorts, Everett Dowling,  Oahu’s Ena Motoi LLC, family members of the Oahu-based Kobayashi Group ($5,000), Maui Lani Partners, and the Goodfellow family ($7,000).

U’u-Hodgins supporters include Goodfellows Bros. family members ($8,000), Kobayashi Group family members ($10,000), Benchmark Hospitality Hawaii (they own Turtle Bay), F& H Construction, West Maui Land, Hawaiian Dredging, and the Hawaii Hotel Alliance. U’u-Hodgins even held a fundraiser in Honolulu to pack her campaign coffers.

On Moloka‘i, John Pele’s attempt to unseat progressive incumbent Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, has also prompted a flood of developer money. Pele’s major donors list is packed with developers and union money, including the American Resort Development Association, Benchmark Hospitality Hawaii, the UWUA’s Committee on Political Education General Fund, Everett Dowling, the Hawaii Hotel Alliance, the General Contractors Association of Hawaii PAC, and Goodfellows Bros. family members ($5,000), and once again family members of the Kobayashi Group, who collectively handed over $6,000.

Members of the Kobayashi family appear to be playing a major part in hoping to shape Maui’s future political landscape by betting on pro-development candidates. Kobayashi Group is a family owned and managed real estate development and investment company based on Oahu. They are behind some of Honolulu’s most elite real estate, including Park Lane Ala Moana and the Hokua luxury condos.

While state law bans companies from donating to candidates if they are currently working on a government contract, a loophole in the law allows employees and officers of those companies to continue making political donations.

Our Hawaiʻi Action discovered there are 17 companies with Maui County contracts whose senior staff, owners, directors, other decision makers, or their close family have also made significant contributions to Maui County campaigns this cycle. The total represents about $100,000 contributed for a total of $55 million in contracts awarded.

Grassroots organization Common Cause Hawaii, has urged the need to curb the influence of big donors and corporations. “If we want to shine a light on dark money spending, which we all do, especially Common Cause, we have to do it in a strategic way and cover everybody,” reported Common Cause Hawaii’s Sandy Ma.

When Kelly King stepped down from representing South Maui, she endorsed environmental scientist Robin Knox to replace her. “Maui County needs Robin’s mature voice and professional experience on the County Council,” King told Maui Now. “It would have been difficult to step down without someone of her caliber willing to run in my place.”

Knox has promised to focus on affordable housing by collaborating with the community and developers, supporting a diversified and sustainable economy, and protecting the environmental quality of Maui County. “You may already know me from my professional work as a water protector and volunteer work advocating for affordable housing and other issues before the County Council,” she announced on her campaign page. “I am deeply committed to the quality of life for Maui County residents and environmental preservation of our island communities.”

Nara Boone also promises as a County Councilor that she will focus on more affordable housing opportunities. “We have to get this under control,” she told The Maui News. “Too many people are moving away because they don’t have a place to live.” She supports restricting short-term rentals in the vicinity of schools to help local families live in closer proximity to school campuses. She also supports implementing subsidized housing for teachers, nurses and other essential workers.

“I’m running,” said Boone, “because I grew up here and witnessed the shift away from the good of the people to the good of corporations, outside investors and tourism, no matter the cost. We are that cost, and we’ve paid enough.”

The Maui Independent recently published this video endorsement of Maui County’s ‘Onipa’a 2022 slate of Council candidates:

 

 

 

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Jon Woodhouse

Jon Woodhouse is the Managing Editor of The Maui Independent, which is owned by Progressive Source Communications. Moving to Maui 42 years ago, he feels blessed to live here. He writes about music for The Maui News and worked for the Hawaii Department of Education up until late 2019. Jon is the author of Music Legends on Maui: Conversations with Icons of Rock, Country, Jazz, Blues, Hawaiian, Soul & Reggae in Paradise

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