The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters is boosting its spending on advertising to support U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and oppose Gov. David Ige just as early absentee ballots are being cast in the Democratic primary, according to new reports filed with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.
The super political action committee controlled by the carpenters previously reported it was spending more than $67,000 to support Hanabusa, but new filings show the super PAC has now committed an additional $300,000 either to support Hanabusa or to oppose Ige.
Up until this week most of the advertisements fielded by the carpenters’ super PAC, called “Be Change Now,” have had a positive spin, praising Hanabusa for her background and accomplishments. However, the latest filings indicate more than $150,000 of the new spending will be committed specifically to opposing Ige’s re-election bid.
John Hart, chairman and professor of communication at Hawaii Pacific University, said the advertising push is in response to polling data that show the huge lead Hanabusa had earlier this year has disappeared. At the same time, Hanabusa is appearing more frequently in forums and other public events across the state, he said.
“I would totally expect that since we’re now within the statistical margin of error on this race, you’re going to see some harder punches,” he said.
The primary election is Aug. 11, but voting by mail is already underway.
Be Change Now announced Monday it would field a new campaign ad Tuesday criticizing Ige “for failing to officially let the people on Hawaii know the missile alert was not real for 38 long minutes,” according to a statement from Be Change Now spokesman Eric Koch.
“During the missile crisis, Governor Ige failed the people of Hawaii — period,” according to the statement from Koch. “Instead of showing leadership, Governor Ige was busy trying to remember his Twitter password, and for 38 minutes the people on Hawaii had no idea if the missile alert was real or a drill — causing mass panic. The choice is clear this election: Governor Ige embarrassed and failed Hawaii during a crisis and is the wrong choice for governor.”
State Rep. Gregg Takayama, who is an Ige supporter, described the latest ad as “the same old from Colleen and her backers. Gov. Ige successfully reformed the (Hawaii) Emergency Management Agency and moved on, and I think so have the people of Hawaii.”
A spokesman for the Hanabusa campaign did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters is the largest construction union in the state. It is also a major sponsor of the Pacific Resource Partnership, which fielded a controversial negative advertising campaign in 2012 that may have tilted the outcome of that election.
PRP’s political action
committee spent more than $3.6 million in 2012 in a fierce campaign to prevent former Gov. Ben Cayetano from being elected Honolulu mayor. PRP supports the city’s rail project, which Cayetano had pledged to stop if he was elected mayor.
Cayetano sued for defamation in connection with PRP’s advertising during the 2012 campaign, and PRP agreed to apologize and donate $125,000 in Cayetano’s name to the University of Hawaii Medical School and the Hawaiian Humane Society to settle the lawsuit.
In this year’s race for governor, Takayama said, the Ige campaign expected “a last-minute barrage of negative advertising because that’s what this group is known for, but the momentum is clearly on Gov. Ige’s side at this point.”
Hart said the idea that Hawaii voters generally reject negative advertising is a myth. Voters here and on the mainland say they dislike negative ads, but “if you study the impact of negative advertising, it works,” he said. “So, even though people aren’t in favor of it, political campaigns are not going to ignore the fact that it works.”
One risk for the Hanabusa campaign is that Ige is generally seen as a likable candidate. “So how do you go negative and how do you get aggressive, especially if you’re a female, without rubbing against the obvious conundrum there?” Hart asked. “In other words, the more you go negative, the more you look unlikable, and he already is the one with likability.”
Super PACs such as Be Change Now can legally spend unlimited amounts to advocate election or defeat of candidates so long as they do not contribute directly to those candidates and do not coordinate their activities with any candidate or party.
That means the Hanabusa campaign doesn’t control the Be Change Now ad campaign, but Hart said he expects most people will probably still attribute any negative advertising back to the Hanabusa camp.
Thus far this year Be Change Now has focused most of its money on the crowded race for lieutenant governor. The super PAC has already spent nearly $461,000 on commercials promoting state Sen. Josh Green’s campaign, which has helped Green to pull ahead of the other lieutenant governor candidates.
On July 13 Be Change Now announced it also would be supporting Hanabusa for governor.
Ige has drawn support from a super PAC called AiKea UNITE HERE, which is funded by the UNITE HERE Local 5 hospitality and health care union political action committee and the Ironworkers Union Local 625 Stabilization Fund. State records show AiKea has committed $100,000 to support Ige.
Another PAC, funded by the United Public Workers union, has committed nearly $82,000 to support Ige and two other candidates, and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly has committed more than $102,000 to support Hanabusa, according to state filings.
Corrie Tanida, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said the activities of super PACs in Hawaii show that “since the Citizens United decision, it’s not just a mainland issue. It’s absolutely hitting close to home, and I think people are understanding that now.”
The Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 prohibited government from restricting independent expenditures by corporations and unions.