Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie was barred a year ago from transferring almost $1 million in his congressional campaign treasury to his current campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Abercrombie since has refunded almost half of that war chest to donors in hopes at least some of those dollars would find their way to his campaign for governor. An analysis by the Associated Press of his state and federal contribution reports indicate that effort has been largely successful.
"We knew that we weren’t going to get all the money, but we were trying to recapture as much of it as possible," said Abercrombie campaign spokeswoman Laurie Au.
Beginning last September, Abercrombie refunded $427,000 to 270 contributors, Federal Election Commission reports indicate. At least 201 of those donors have since given almost $402,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, according to state Campaign Spending Commission records.
"We support the gentleman, so I had no problem contributing to his campaign for governor," said Wil Chee, owner of a development consulting firm in Honolulu, who was refunded $880 last September and has given a total of $1,200 to Abercrombie’s gubernatorial campaign since December.
Similarly, lawyer John Edmunds was refunded $2,000 and has given Abercrombie’s gubernatorial bid $3,500 since.
That indirect transfer of funds has been crucial to Abercrombie’s ability to keep within sight — financially speaking — of his rival for the nomination, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Abercrombie had raised a total of $2 million as of June 30, including money from donors who received refunds.
Hannemann’s gubernatorial effort has garnered nearly $2.5 million. However, he also has used $672,000 left over from his 2008 mayoral re-election effort, raising his total receipts to about $3.2 million.
The former mayor holds a practical financial advantage in the final weeks of the primary campaign. He had $2 million on hand at the end of June, more than four times that of Abercrombie’s $469,000. The primary election is Sept. 18.
University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner said Hannemann may use his money advantage for a "last-minute blitz."
"This gives Abercrombie a few more options himself to kind of stave this off at the end," Milner said, referring to the refunded money coming back to the campaign.
Last summer, Abercrombie asked the Campaign Spending Commission to allow him to transfer $919,000 from his congressional campaign committee to his gubernatorial campaign.
Attorneys for the Hawaii Republican Party and Hannemann opposed the move. The commission agreed.
Hannemann and GOP Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, however, were allowed to shift money given to their previous local and state campaigns to their gubernatorial bids because they raised the earlier funds pursuant to state law and not for federal races.