HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just as lawmakers are reigning in the state's powers over Kakaako, developers, landowners and their consultants are making a big push to ensure that their voices are heard.
On Friday, the Howard Hughes Corp. hosted a "real estate community pau hana fundraiser" for Gov. Neil Abercrombie that attracted dozens of local business executives and deal makers, who paid $150 each to mingle with the governor.
Other big Kakaako developers such as Stanford Carr Development, Castle & Cooke, Oliver McMillan and Marshall Hung's Downtown Capital co-sponsored the event.
Critics say that in return for the donations, the governor's administration is more likely to approve larger projects.
"It just confirms what we already knew -- that these big developers have a pretty significant say in how the government seems to function and how permits seemed to be doled out," said Ariel Salinas, a Kakaako resident since 2007 and member of Kakaako United, which opposes many of the new project.
"We're practically powerless to stop what we see as the destruction of our neighborhoods."
Campaign officials say the contributions are legal and don't shape what the administration decision making. They said the fundraiser attracted a broad range of people interested in Kakaako's future, not just developers.
The Abercrombie administration doesn't have to disclose the results of last week's fundraiser until July. But state Campaign Spending Records show that the event's co-sponsors and other Kakaako development interests have donated a total of $588,000 to Abercrombie's campaign since 2009.
"People are concerned about special interest money that the influence of money in politics," said state Sen. David Ige, who is opposing Abercrombie in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
"We have heard over and over again that Kakaako is too much, too fast."
The fundraiser comes on the heels of efforts to reduce the administration's clout over Kakaako. Gov. Abercrombie recent signed a bill that would restructure the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which oversees development in Kakaako.
That measure will require the HCDA to hold more hearings and sets a 418 foot height limit on high rises.
Several of the co-sponsors of last week's fundraiser have already given the legal limit of $6,000 to the Abercrombie campaign.
But experts say that co-hosting a fundraiser helps big donors raise even more money.
"There are ways that you can host a fundraiser that allows other people to give money," said John Hart, communications professor at Hawaii Pacific University.