New group wants corporate money out of Hawaii politics

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Affordable housing, the Red Hill water crisis and economic diversification are some of Hawaii’s largest and most complex problems.

A local political action committee is hoping a pledge to stop Hawaii’s politicians from accepting large campaign donations from lobbyists and corporations will help solve some of those problems and allow kamaaina to live more comfortably.

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Our Hawaii Action is a new super political action committee (PAC) that is calling on all 2022 election candidates whether they be democrats, republicans or independents to pledge to turn down contributions of more than $100 from corporations, lobbyists, large hotels and military contractors among others.

“We know that when big money endorses candidates, they always expect political action in return,” Our Hawaii Action Member Alani Bagcal said.

In February, state lawmakers Kalani English and Ty Cullen pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for legislation. Both received cash and gifts from Milton Choy, a Hawaii businessman who had legal donations to dozens of politicians. In total, donations were more than $300,000 from Choy, his family and people affiliated with his companies since 2014.

In the 2020 election state legislature, candidates accepted almost $6 million in contributions.

“This heavily influences how elected officials design and vote on legislation,” Bagcal said. “So when big money — take for example luxury developers — endorse a candidate for like a million dollars it does raise concerns because ultimately, luxury developers build luxury condominiums and the reality is that the local people need affordable housing.”

Hawaii Pacific University political expert John Hart believes that aiming to get money out of politics is the right direction.

“Elections cost too much money. Number two, undoubtedly, Citizens United is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions, and that’s unleashed all this dark PAC money where you don’t know where it’s coming from,” Hart said.

He’s skeptical of super PACS.

“This is the problem with PACs. And this is the problem that Citizens United. So the most generous thing I could say is maybe this is the right message from the wrong messenger,” Hart stated.

Our Hawaii Action said they will back candidates who take their pledge and plans to us at least $400,000 on things like door-knocking, mailers and advertisements.

“We will never take a dime from big money or from corporations. So our point action is a people’s movement. So we are getting support from the people,” Bagcal said.

Although it was not tied to special interests, Our Hawaii Action co-founder and former Hawaii State Representative Kaniela Ing was fined more than $15,000 for campaign spending violations which he said were an unintentional mistake.

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Our Action Hawaii launched the pledge Sunday night. Hawaii’s primary elections are scheduled for Aug. 13.

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