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Super PACS spend heavily to promote Maui candidacies

Two super PACs have spent nearly a half-million dollars to independently support three Maui County Council candidates in the general election, according to state Campaign Spending Commission reports filed late Monday.

Super PAC Maui Timeshare Ohana spent $286,375 in collateral material, print and radio advertisements, mailers, postage and consulting fees in the reporting period from Aug. 10 to Oct. 20.

Super PAC Forward Progress spent $186,099 in postage, mailers, canvasser supplies and salaries, radio spots, media production and radio advertisements in the same period.

The funds from both super PACs were spent to support Council Member Mike White, who holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat; Joe Pontanilla, a former council member seeking to reclaim his Kahului residency seat; and newcomer Ka’ala Buenconsejo, who is seeking the West Maui council residency seat.

Forward Progress also spent $5,316 for housing, meals, car rentals, airfare and lodging on Maui. An email to Forward Progress to explain the expenditures on Maui was not returned Tuesday.

Super PACs voice their opinions about candidates without the support or suggestion of candidates or parties. They also are required to file disclosure reports, the latest of which were due Monday with the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Neither super PAC could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Spending by the two super PACs surfaced during the primary election in the West Maui council race with the super PACs both endorsing Buenconsejo. He finished second in the primary with 7,430 votes; incumbent Elle Cochran took first with 10,714 votes. Rick Nava with 4,684 votes was eliminated.

Since then, the two super PACs have expanded their reach into the Makawao-Haiku-Paia council race, where White is facing a tough campaign against former Council Member Mike Molina, and the Kahului council race, where former Council Member Pontanilla is attempting to unseat incumbent Don Guzman.

In the primary, White was second, grabbing 9,562 votes; Molina finished on top with 10,862 votes. Two other challengers were eliminated. Guzman and Pontanilla did not have a primary election race.

Maui Timeshare Ohana PAC, headed by Grant D. Gillham, a political consultant in Washington, D.C., and Reno, Nev., had $150,939.86 cash on hand at the beginning of the reporting period. It received $125,000 each from the Ocean Resort Villa North PAC and the Ocean Resort Villas PAC, which are affiliated with owners of time shares at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas.

Time-share owners have long complained to the council that their property taxes are too high. Time-share owners pay the highest property tax rates in the county.

During the reporting period, Maui Timeshare Ohana also received $40,000 from the American Resort Development Association with an address in Washington, D.C.

Maui Timeshare Ohana spent $327,702.29 and had a surplus of $113,237.57 at the end of the period.

The single largest expenditure was $84,850.84 to Mission Control Inc. in Connecticut for mailers, printing, production and postage in support of Buenconsejo. Another expenditure of $64,929.92, also to Mission Control, went to mailers, printing, production and postage in support of White.

Maui Timeshare Ohana also spent $20,500 for a Maui County survey by Tulchin Research, based in San Francisco. It was not clear for what purpose the survey was done or who the survey would benefit.

Forward Progress, which is headed by John White, the executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership, a consortium of unionized contractors and the Hawaii Carpenters Union, reported having a deficit of $2,416,75 at the beginning of the reporting period.

It took in $349,955.99 in contributions, all from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program. It spent $322,297.39 and had a total of $205,261.98 in unpaid expenditures at the end of the reporting period.

Forward Progress had $25,241.85 cash on hand at the end of the period, but with the unpaid expenditures, the super PAC showed a deficit of $180,020.13.

Some of its larger single expenditures included $60,991.92 for postage for mailers in support of Pontanilla; $31,099.68 for postage for mailers opposing Cochran, Buenconsejo’s opponent; $22,178.88 for postage for mailers supporting Buenconsejo; and $20,500 for a Maui poll by Tulchin Research.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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