Race for lieutenant governor pits personal wealth against PAC money

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - How candidates finance their campaigns has become a major issue in American politics.

And that debate appears to be playing out in Hawaii's Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor.

Campaign spending reports filed Thursday show that Kim Coco Iwamoto, a civil rights attorney whose father is the founder and CEO of Roberts Hawaii, has loaned her campaign $442,000.

That's 66 percent of the $669,660 she has raised during the election cycle. She has spent $420,023, leaving her campaign about $249,637 in debt.

Loaning money to one's own campaign is both legal and fairly common.

The law allows a candidate to pay back loans from themselves or immediate family with money raised after the election.

Candidates who use the tactic and win office are more likely to pay back the loans because the office gives them renewed ability to attract donations.

Meanwhile, the most successful fundraiser in the race so far is state Sen. Josh Green.

He's received just over $1 million during the election period, and has spent more than $918,000.

He still has about $152,000 left for the last few weeks of the primary campaign.

Green is also being helped by a construction union PAC called "Be Change Now," which has committed $242,000 to support Green through its own advertising campaign. The PAC is sponsored by the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters and by law cannot collaborate with the candidate's campaign, although its advertising and Green's share similar themes.

In a statement Friday morning, Iwamoto campaign Chairman Daniel Foley, a retired judge, said Iwamoto will not accept money from political action committees.

"We know we are being outspent by a number of our opponents and that will continue to be the case," Foley said.

"The question voters must consider in this race is who do you trust ... status quo career politicians with strings attached via super PAC and corporate donations, or a truly progressive candidate without those strings."

Iwamoto's most recent loan to her campaign, $242,000 in late June, mirrored the amount "Be Change Now" pledged to support of Green.

Green issued this statement Friday afternoon: "I'm deeply honored and grateful to have such strong support across the state, including the support of Hawaii's teachers, nurses, doctors and carpenters, because I believe this election is about doing more to help Hawaii's working families with better healthcare, schools and affordable housing."

Ironically, while's she's an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, Iwamoto is sharing a page from the Trump campaign playbook.

During the 2016 race, he repeatedly pointed out that he was not beholden to special interest groups because he had enough personal wealth to fund his own campaign.

Even with her loans, Iwamoto is in third place for fundraising among the five top Democrats in the race.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda has raised $735,104, and spent $645,472.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho is a distant fourth — at $332,694 raised — and state Sen. Will Espero has raised just $103,377.

In the Republican primary for seat, only two candidates are actively fundraising.

Former legislative aid Jeremy Low has raised $19,513 and former military pilot Steve Lipscomb has $3,203.

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