Incumbent County Council members raising more dough than challengers

  • Tim Richards

Incumbent County Council members held tight to the money lead in the most recent campaign finance reports, with most accepting large contributions from unions and other special interest groups, compared to smaller donations from individuals.

That’s according to a West Hawaii Today analysis of June 30 reports local candidates filed last week with the state Campaign Spending Commission. The analysis looked at total money raised for the election cycle, amount remaining June 30 and how much money came in increments of $100 or less compared to larger contributions.

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Council seats are nonpartisan, and any candidate who takes more than half the votes wins the election in the Aug. 11 primary. If not, the top two vote-getters face off in the general election.

The leader in the money race is Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who has received $38,980, mostly from farmers and ranchers he’s affiliated with. Just 6.6 percent of his contributions came from donations of $100 or less. Richards’ challenger, Maya Parish, raised $11,165, primarily from mainland family members, with 22.8 percent in small contributions.

“My funding has come from people who know me or know of me and respect my thought process and like what I stand for,” Richards said Wednesday. “Though I do not always agree with them, the fact that I will stand on principle and speak for those without a voice, I believe earns their support. I work for the constituents. I do not believe that funding from anyone guarantees my vote in their favor.”

Parish said her next campaign finance report will show she’s raised more, and she’s been creative with the money she’s raised, shopping for bargains and organizing at the grass-roots level.

“I am dedicating much of my time and energy to attending community meetings and going door to door, introducing myself to the residents of the district and listening to the concerns and challenges they face so I can best serve their needs as their representative,” Parish said. “It’s been one of my favorite parts of this process, and it also happens to be free.”

The Puna District 4 race is also into five-digit fundraising, with incumbent Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara raising $16,025 to challenger Ashley Kierkiewicz’s $13,883. More than $6,000 of Kierkiewicz’s money is her own contributions to her account, however. A full 38.6 percent of O’Hara’s contributions and 20.4 percent of Kierkiewicz’s came in increments of $100 or less.

District 4 is in the heart of the volcano emergency, and that’s changed the election dramatically. Voters in some precincts received mail-in ballots weeks ahead of the regular mail ballot schedule, in turn shortening schedules for candidates.

O’Hara, who said she also lost property to the lava inundation, said she canceled all fund-raising plans. She’s participating in the public funding option, which requires a spending cap.

“Been lucky to have a few stalwart supporters who reached out with donations anyway, but so many of my supporters have lost so much, I don’t feel right asking for donations,” O’Hara said. “Problem is, this has been anything but a conventional campaign cycle. About one third of the voters in my district received their ballots in June. Hard to work around that and the fact some of my voters are scattered to the winds.”

Challenger Kierkiewicz is upbeat about her campaign.

“The campaign is going extremely well,” she said. “We’ve received a lot of support since the last couple of forums.”

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy doesn’t have any competition, but she’s raised more than several council members who do. Lee Loy raised $10,838, with only 4.2 percent coming from donations of $100 or less.

“I never take anything for granted, especially the trust and confidence of the voters in District 3,” Lee Loy said. “I am blessed that so many people recognized my hard work and efforts to build and strengthen our island home. The future is unknown and I want to be prepared to make sure I can continue to serve the families of District 3 for 2018-2020.”

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, who also has no challenger this election, reports raising no money.

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David have low-budget races, with their challengers agreeing not to raise or spend more than $1,000. Those candidates arren’t required to file reports until after the general election.

Chung said he’s not actively fundraising and has held no events, but he gets campaign contributions anyway. He reported $4,600 in contributions this election cycle, with only 2.2 percent in checks of $100 or less. That percentage is misleading, he said, because if he held fundraisers, the calabash contributions would bring that percentage way up.

“I’m not holding fundraisers,” Chung said, “because I don’t want to impose on my supporters. … There are all these other races out there, such as the governor’s race.”

Two council seats have no incumbents, and candidates are busy getting their names out.

The crowded Kona District 7 council race has four candidates vying to fill the seat vacated by Councilman Dru Kanuha, who’s running for state Senate. Bronsten Kossow and Rebecca Villegas are running neck-and-neck in the money race, with Kossow raising $6,944 to Villegas’ $6,736. Both reported receiving about 20 percent of their contributions in increments of $100 or less.

Kossow, who launched an unsuccessful bid against state Rep. Nicole Lowen in 2016, said he learned a lot from that experience and also came into his current race with a little money saved up.

“I understand how important it is to build campaign capital,” Kossow said.

Kossow’s endorsement by six unions is also helping his campaign, he said. That included two $1,000 donations so far from unions.

Villegas said she’s thankful for support from individuals. She had no contributions of $1,000 or more.

“I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support for my campaign for public office,” Villegas said. “I feel very fortunate that my campaign funding has been provided by friends, family and individuals who believe I am the best candidate to represent District 7 on the County Council.”

Also in the race, Kelly Drysdale collected $2,925, with 43.6 percent checks of $100 or less. Cynthia Nazara didn’t file a report.

In the race for Puna’s open District 5 seat, candidates are struggling with the same lava problems plaguing District 4. Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, with $7,200 reported, and Ric Wirick, with $3,435, are funding their own campaigns.

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“It’s disappointing that we’re really not getting many forums and debates,” Wirick said about getting his message out on a low budget.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.