Interest money

Special Interests Money Fuels Hawaii Delegation Leadership PACs

WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele continues to raise money from corporate donors, lobbyists and political action committees for his federal campaign committee despite a campaign promise from the governor of not do so for his state campaign, according to federal campaign finance reports filed last week.

Kahele still operates Gil PAC, a federal leadership PAC that has received nearly $60,000 in contributions since he was first elected to Congress in 2020. Some of his biggest donors include the Air Line Pilots Association , of which he is a member as a pilot of Hawaiian Airlines, the defense contractor BAE Systems and the American Crystal Sugar Co.

Last month, Gil PAC — named after Kahele’s late father, former state senator Gil Kahele — withdrew $5,000 from Nike and Microsoft, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The United States Capitol in Washington, DC Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2021

The most recent reports covered contributions and expenditures for the month of April.

Kahele cannot use the money he raised for Gil PAC in his state race. But the contributions stand in stark contrast to his vow to only accept grassroots donations when he runs for governor.

Many of the special interest contributions Kahele has received through Gil PAC have come as he prepares for his gubernatorial campaign, which he has told supporters he has been considering at least since. january. The same goes for his federal campaign committee.

Kahele did not respond to a request for comment from Civil Beat.

Leadership PACs in general are used by members of Congress to advance their own political relationships, for example by donating to colleagues or party organizations, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Kahele’s case, he donated $15,000 to the DCCC. Much of the rest of her money was spent on consultants and fundraising events, including $22,000 for Lori LaFave, a Washington-based fundraiser whose clients include U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and Lt. Governor Josh Green, also a gubernatorial candidate.

Schatz and U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono are the other members of the Hawaii federal delegation who have their own leadership PACs. Hawaii Congressman Ed Case does not.

Since the start of 2021, Schatz and Hirono’s leadership PACs have raised over $810,000 between them. Like Kahele, much of the money came from a range of special interests, from Native American tribes and defense contractors to transportation unions and Fortune 500 companies.

Hawaii PAC, which is Schatz’s executive committee, has spent significant sums on fundraising over the past two years, but the senator has also donated tens of thousands of dollars to political campaigns across the country, including at least $85,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

In April aloneHawaii PAC donated $5,000 to Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and another $5,000 to the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labour Party.

Hirono’s Pineapple PAC, meanwhile, has given at least $175,000 in direct contributions to fellow Democrats, including $10,000 to Schatz, who faces re-election this year. She was also given to other political organizations, including the DSCC, the Democratic Party of Hawaii and EMILY’s List, which aims to elect more pro-choice Democratic women to Congress.

Access and influence

“Leadership PACs were created to allow politicians to distribute their financial wealth,” said Michael Beckel, research director for Issue One, a bipartisan political reform organization based in Washington, DC. “Politicians can use their leadership PACs to raise additional money that cannot be used for their own campaigns, but can be distributed to friends and political allies.

Last year number one published a report in collaboration with the Campaign Legal Center which found that 120 legislators with leadership PACs spent less than 50% of their money on politics between 2019 and 2020.

The analysis revealed that a number of politicians used their PACs as personal slush funds to pay for meals at expensive restaurants, rounds of golf and stays at luxury resorts.

“Giving PACs leadership is a way to gain access and influence in Washington,” he said.

Schatz sees it differently.

“In addition to operating costs, including staff, the money we raise through Hawaii PAC goes to Democratic candidates across the country,” he said through a campaign spokesperson. . “We need Democrats in power everywhere to implement the political goals we all share – but we need to win the election. That’s what money is for.