HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pro-development interests are flooding the West Maui county council race with political cash, hoping to topple incumbent Elle Cochran.
The Carpenters union's super PAC, Forward Progress, has spent more than $50,000 on the race while the Maui Timeshare Ohana PAC's spending has topped $80,0000. These expenditures are just for the primary and will likely balloon for the Nov. 4 general election.
"What have I done so horrible that (they) have to focus so much money and energy in this kind of campaign against me," said Cochran.
Most of the money went into radio ads and political mailers supporting Cochran's opponent Kaala Buenconsejo.
Cochran -- who spent a total of $50,000 in her last race -- believes she knows why so much pro-development money is being spent.
"I'm a pro-green development, sustainable development. If a development comes along and yes there's negative impacts to the culture and natural resources, yeah I'm going to ask questions about it," she said.
Businesses and labor organizations such as the Carpenters union can't give more than $4,000 to individual political candidates. But by setting up a super PAC, they're able to spend unlimited amounts so long as there's no coordination with the candidates.
Buenconsejo said there's no coordination between his committee and the PACs.
He says he's also surprised by the volume of ads supporting him and that one of the ads overstates his record as an environmentalist.
Forward Progress -- which replaced the Carpenters' pro-rail Pacific Resource Partnership PAC -- said it supports candidates who want to make Hawaii a better and more affordable place to live. The Maui Timeshares PAC did not return calls.
The West Maui controversy comes as the Carpenters Union's political activities has been under intense scrutiny. After spending $3 million in attack ads against anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, the union's PAC Pacific Resource Partnership was forced to issue a mea culpa for its negative campaign against the former governor.
PRP, which also had to donate $125,000 to Cayetano's favorite nonprofits, is also under investigation by the state Campaign Spending Commission over alleged reporting violations.
Political analyst Colin Moore said super PAC have been more active in Mainland and statewide races but their involvement in the tiny West Maui election is a first and shows how even small local races like this one can be affected by big money.
"This is new," he said.
"They have a lot of impact on these smaller races. There is no limit on the money they can spend."